GENEVA — The U.S. would remain committed to World Trade Organization talks even if there is war in Iraq, the chief U.S. negotiator in Geneva said.

The next scheduled WTO ministerial is to be held in Cancun, Mexico in September. The current WTO round faces a Jan. 1, 2005 deadline.

"At a time of international conflict, it’s very, very important that we continue to move forward and keep our economies healthy, and take the steps necessary so that will be true in the future," Peter Allgeier, deputy U.S. trade representative, said in a news conference last week.

Some diplomats had raised concerns that a war could bring a two-to-three month delay in the talks. "I think this organization will remain committed to carrying forward with this important work," he said.

Allgeier acknowledged "obviously no one knows precisely, what will occur" on the Iraq question in the next several weeks. But he pointed out that in the run-up to the Doha summit in November 2001, which launched the round, "a lot of people felt the events of Sept. 11th of that year would prevent us from even holding the conference."

At that point, the U.S. and the other WTO member governments, he said, "determined that we needed to keep our focus on this important work, and we were able to have a very successful outcome at Doha."

A number of WTO ambassadors, however, did not share Allgeier’s optimism.

"If?there’s a war, Cancun will fall through the void," predicted one top Western European?official, who requested anonymity.

"The Iraq crisis is absorbing the politicians’ attentions and it makes it hard to take hard decisions," said a WTO ambassador from another large trading power.

Many top envoys from rich and poor countries also complain the talks are barely inching forward and in?many areas?are in a political stalemate.

But Allgeier said President Bush is fully behind the push for a successful WTO round.

"We got clear directions from President Bush, now that we have trade-promotion authority," he said. "Believe me, we’re under no illusion as to what we are instructed to achieve."The objective of the talks is to slash barriers to global trade in agricultural products, industrial goods, and commercial services, worth annually about $7.3 trillion.

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