President Bush met Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai on Tuesday in what marks the historic first visit for the Prime Minister to the United States since the end of Vietnam war. During reception, Bush primarily spoke on the topic of economic relations, but was soft-spoken toward the issues of religious freedom and human rights.
Despite the continual rally of evangelical Christians urging the president to address the issue, President Bush was not critical on the topic in his meeting with the prime minister. In his conversation, Bush noted the recent signing of bilateral agreement to increasing religious liberty with Southeast Asian nations as a "landmark," and he also mentioned that he wish to visit Vietnam next year in coincidence with the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting to be held in Vietnam.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that in the two head of state's meeting, Bush and Khai did discuss the importance of improving human rights and religious freedom. U.S. officials believe that the agreement on religious liberty will be a step forward in the nation quoted as one of "countries of particular concern" due to its lack of political and religious freedom.
At the other end of Washington, Sen. Brownback and 44 other lawmakers wrote a letter to Bush to press further on the issue of human rights. Protestors have also been demonstrating in various parts of U.S. since the arrival of the Prime Minister Khai in Seattle, the beginning of the four-city tour in his visit. As Khai and Bush met at the White House, demonstrators marched on the Lafayette Square in front waiving the former South Vietnam flags, a mannequin of Vietnam revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh crossed off on the face, and signs that read, "Vietnam: Stop Religious Freedom Repression."
In response to the opposition, Khai said Vietnam is willing to open discussions with United States.