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2 of a Kind Prove Deal Is in Cards : Negotiators: Their teamwork pays off. Kantor and Brittan clear way for sweeping accord.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

They are both 54 years old. They are both lawyers who love a good argument. And both of their families immigrated to the West from Lithuania.

And now Mickey Kantor, the U.S. trade representative, and Leon Brittan, the European Community’s chief trade negotiator, are the two men who, more than anyone else, have rescued seven years of international trade talks from the edge of oblivion.

A year ago, when Kantor and Brittan assumed their present roles, the talks seemed hopelessly deadlocked by a host of disputes between the United States and Western Europe. Now Kantor and Brittan have negotiated their way through the U.S.-European thicket and cleared a path for the most sweeping international trade agreement in history.

Kantor and Brittan have spent more hours with each other in the past year--and at all times of the day and night--than either would care to count. Their closest encounter was the period between midnight and 8 a.m. Tuesday, when, facing each other across a conference table in a Geneva office building, they wrapped up a U.S.-EC trade accord and still had time to shave and get a little breakfast before unveiling their agreement at an 11 a.m. news conference.

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At the news conference, they could hardly say enough nice things about each other. Kantor praised Brittan as “not only a master diplomat but also a tremendous intellect.” Brittan in turn said, “Our respect and regard for each other has developed into a friendship.”

Well, that may be something of an overstatement, fed by the euphoria of the moment. Mutual respect, yes: Both men are extremely smart, a trait they value in themselves and admire in others.

“It’s the kind of relationship where they can shout at each other for hours and then go out and have a sandwich together,” said a European who has watched the pair in action for the past year.

Still, according to aides to both negotiators, each knows plenty of people he would rather spend time with than the man he faced across the table in the wee hours of Tuesday morning.

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Despite the fatigue and the pressure, neither man lost his cool--as Brittan had in an earlier session when, in response to some long-since-forgotten insult, he stormed out of the room.

The two negotiators’ shared backgrounds are intriguing--but they go only so far. Each has a grandfather who left Lithuania for the West, but under entirely different circumstances.

Brittan’s father was a doctor who settled in London between the world wars after studying medicine in Berlin. His grandfather was also a doctor.

Kantor’s family followed a rather less august path. His grandfather settled as a bookbinder in Brooklyn, where he was a Socialist and a union activist, and his father owned a furniture store in Nashville.

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Brittan was a Conservative when he began his college years at age 16 at Cambridge. Kantor also showed an early interest in politics. But his politics were liberal; he cut his teeth on George McGovern’s presidential campaign in 1972.


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