SEOUL – South Korea’s president Lee Myung-bak apologized to the country for a beef import deal with the United States that has sparked weeks of protests.

The Associated Press reported that the address was aimed at trying to calm the public anger over the deal. It doesn’t affect the agreement which will allow U.S. beef into the South Korean market for the first time in three years.

Lee said the government should have tried harder to convince the public on the deal before agreeing, the news service reported.

The beef accord has come under heavy criticism for allegedly failing to protect South Koreans against mad cow disease, the AP said. The deal calls for Seoul to scrap nearly all restrictions that the country, under Lee's predecessor, imposed on American beef over mad cow concerns. Since then, there have been rampant public concerns over the imports.