SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - SOUTHSouth Korea's incoming government is willing to drop its plan to shut down the ministry that handles relations with communist North Korea, a report said Friday.
The transition team for president-elect Lee Myung-Bak and a rival party reached a 'tentative agreement' on Friday to keep the unification ministry, Yonhap news agency quoted spokesmen for the team and parties as saying.
Mr Lee, a conservative who takes office on Feb 25, sparked a political storm by announcing plans to shut down the unification ministry along with four other ministries and to cut 7,000 jobs to streamline the government.
The liberal United New Democratic Party (UNDP), which with smaller allies has a majority in parliament, fiercely opposed the government reorganisation bills that Lee's team submitted to the legislature last month.
The agreement was reached during the second round of negotiations between the transition team, Lee's Grand National Party and the UNDP, Yonhap said.
But they failed to reach agreement on his plans to close the four other ministries - gender equality, science and technology, information and communication and maritime affairs.
A third round of negotiations will be held Sunday, a spokesman for the transition team was quoted as saying.
'Both parties appear willing to fully support the inauguration of Lee's government by swiftly passing the downsizing reform bills,' he said.
The transition team had called for the unification ministry to be merged with the foreign ministry to secure consistency in policy.
Opponents said it would damage relations and incumbent President Roh Moo-Hyun had indicated he would veto the plan.
There was speculation at the time that Lee's team made the proposal to axe the unification ministry as a bargaining chip to secure a deal on less controversial restructuring.
Liberal governments over the past decade have followed a 'sunshine' engagement policy with the North despite its missile launches and nuclear test.
Mr Lee says he will tie aid more closely to nuclear disarmament.
Mr Lee's team also agreed to drop a controversial plan to put the National Human Rights Commission under the control of the presidential office, spokesmen said.
The commission and overseas rights officials have urged the next president to keep it as an independent body. -- AFP