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Obama Aides Play Down Tensions With Bush


Aides to U.S. President-elect Barack Obama are distancing themselves from reports that President George Bush pressed him to support a free trade deal with Colombia, in exchange for help with aid to the struggling automobile industry.

The New York Times Tuesday quoted unnamed sources as saying the president might agree to new funding for U.S. automakers and a new economic stimulus package, if Democrats pass the trade deal stalled in Congress. Many Democrats oppose the deal, citing Colombia's record on human rights and labor union activity.

Mr. Obama's transition co-chair, John Podesta, said the subject of Colombia came up in White House talks Monday between Mr. Obama and Mr. Bush. But Podesta denied the president offered the Colombia pact as part of a deal. Podesta also played down suggestions the situation led to tensions with Mr. Bush and his staff.

A White House spokeswoman Tuesday said the president did talk about the merits of free trade with Mr. Obama. But the spokeswoman disputed suggestions of a quid pro quo (something given in exchange for something else).

Earlier, the speaker of the U.S House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, called for emergency financial assistance for the battered auto industry to prevent its collapse. Pelosi supports legislation to make the automakers eligible for help under the $700-billion bailout measure cleared by Congress several weeks ago, but she has said such aid should include conditions.

An economic downturn and tight credit have drastically cut car sales. The largest U.S. automaker, General Motors, lost more than four billion dollars in July, August and September, and analysts say the company might go bankrupt without government help.

The U.S. auto industry is already getting a $25-billion aid package to help it develop more fuel-efficient cars.

But some congressional Democrats say that will not be enough to prop up the faltering car companies. They want the government to make another $25 billion available.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP, Bloomberg and Reuters.