WASHINGTON – President Bush has ''made it very clear'' to his Vietnamese counterpart that human rights is a key issue in the development of a U.S.-Vietnam relationship.
During the first visit to the United States by a Vietnamese head of state since the end of the war in 1975, Vietnam’s president, Nguyen Minh Triet, was bombarded with complaints over rights violations.
“[I] made it very clear that in order for relations to grow deeper it’s important for our friends to have a strong commitment to human rights and freedom and democracy,” Bush told reporters after the Friday meeting, according to Agence France-Presse.
As Bush inside pressed Nguyen to respect basic rights and religious freedom, hundreds of protestors gathered outside the White House demanding the release of all political prisoners including jailed Catholic priests.
Vietnam has come under international criticism for its persecution of unregistered religious groups, particularly Protestant Christians and ethnic minority Hmong believers.
Prior to the historic meeting on Friday, U.S. lawmakers this past week had discussed Hanoi’s recent crackdown on dissidents, religious leaders and pro-democracy activists. Over the past two months, seven people have been sentenced to long-term imprisonment, including Fr. Nguyen Van Ly, a Roman Catholic priest who was sentenced to eight years for his pro-democracy activism, which has garnered worldwide attention and activism for his release. The group of senators had urged Bush to use growing U.S.-Vietnam relations as leverage to press Hanoi to observe human rights and religious freedom.
The United States and Vietnam have recently seen growing economic cooperation, a prime reason for last week’s visit. The two countries signed a trade and investment framework pact on Thursday, six months after Washington restored normal trade ties with its former enemy, opening the way for Vietnam to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) in January.
In November, Bush was the second U.S. president, after Bill Clinton, to visit Vietnam since the War. During his visit he attended a church with Vietnamese Protestants and Catholics to pray and show support for religious freedom in the country.
Vietnam was also taken off of the U.S. list of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom last year despite its religious freedom abuse.