AFP: Malaysia has said it is ready to halt free trade talks with the United States after a US lawmaker called for a suspension in protest over an energy deal with Iran, a report said Friday. KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 2, 2007 (AFP) – Malaysia has said it is ready to halt free trade talks with the United States after a US lawmaker called for a suspension in protest over an energy deal with Iran, a report said Friday.
Tom Lantos, the head of the US House of Representatives’ top foreign affairs panel, described as “abhorrent” a 16 billion dollar deal signed in January between the state-owned National Iranian Oil Company and Malaysia’s SKS Group.
In an angry response, Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz said according to the Malay-language Utusan Melayu that Malaysia does not need the free trade agreement and that it was the US who wanted the negotiations to continue.
“I am ready to advise the government to halt negotiations with the US with immediate effect as they do not respect the preliminary conditions of the free trade negotiations,” she told the daily.
Rafidah said the US had agreed from the start that the free trade negotiations would not touch on issues relating to political agendas and that there should not be any interference in either country’s domestic policies.
She said that Malaysia will continue to maintain harmonious diplomatic relations with any country in the world, except Israel, and that it will not bow to any nation, including the US, who wanted to interfere.
However, the minister said she was confident that the free trade talks would proceed despite Lantos’ call.
The United States and Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim nation, will next week hold a fifth and crucial round of negotiations in a bid to strike an agreement before the end of March, in time to present it to Congress before President George W. Bush’s powers to strike free trade deals expire in June.
Both sides have expressed fears that they will fail to meet the deadline, with talks bogged down in sensitive areas including the services sector, investment and government procurement.