A senior U.S. trade negotiator says "important progress" was made this week towards a free-trade deal with South Korea, and a seventh round of talks is scheduled. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

U.S. trade envoy Wendy Cutler said Friday she is "optimistic" the United States and South Korea can strike a free-trade deal before an approaching deadline.

She wrapped up a week of talks in Seoul with her South Korean counterpart, Kim Jong-hoon, by confirming that a seventh round of talks will take place next month.

She says negotiators have spent much of the week dealing with some of the thornier issues.

"Getting a better understanding of which issues they can agree to at their level, and which issues need to be elevated to chief negotiator level, or perhaps to more senior levels," she said.

Disagreements over pharmaceuticals, automobiles, and U.S. import regulations have been the key obstacles to an agreement.

The two countries hope to sign a deal before June, when President Bush's authority to submit it to Congress for a simple yes-or-no vote expires.