Bush Meets Vietnamese President Friday

Friday, June 22nd 2007, 7:18 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The first visit of a Vietnamese president to the White House since the Vietnam War comes amid harsh criticism by U.S. lawmakers of the communist-led nation's human rights record.

President Bush has tried to make human rights a central part of his Asia policy. Republican lawmakers are urging Bush to press President Nguyen Minh Triet on Friday to make stronger efforts to stop what they describe as widespread abuse of Vietnam's citizens.

Triet has attempted to keep the focus on vibrant trade ties between the United States and one of Asia's fastest-growing economies. The countries began a bilateral trade agreement in 2001; trade reached nearly $10 billion last year.

Triet is leading a delegation of more than 100 Vietnamese businessmen. He signed with the United States on Thursday a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, which sometimes acts as a road map to eventual free trade negotiations.

But during an hour-long private meeting Thursday, senior U.S. lawmakers repeatedly took Triet to task for claims by rights groups that Vietnam has ramped up repression of political activists and religious leaders.

``Human rights was overwhelmingly the dominant issue,'' Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., said. ``We've got to see a stop to this conduct if this relationship is going to improve.''

When asked about Triet's response, Royce answered: ``Evasion.''

Vietnam tolerates no challenges to Communist one-party rule; it insists, however, that only lawbreakers are jailed. In recent months, Vietnam has arrested or sentenced at least eight pro-democracy activists, including a dissident Roman Catholic priest who was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the No. 2 House Republican, said Triet told lawmakers that Vietnam ``had lots of human rights, but the dissidents were somehow endangering the security of the country. We pressed hard for more information about exactly what that means.''

Triet, in a speech to business leaders before the congressional meeting, avoided any mention of human rights. He called for more U.S. business investment in his fast-growing country and said the government was working hard to smooth out difficulties that some U.S. companies have experienced.

``We will do our best to help you,'' Triet told the audience. ``We are striving to create a friendly business environment.''

Triet said talk of the war was outdated. ``Vietnam is peace. Vietnam is friendship. Vietnam is developing dynamically and creatively,'' he said through an interpreter.

Sherman Katz, a senior associate in international trade at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Vietnam has ``got to be aware that part of the price of doing business with the United States, if you expect the U.S. government to help you, is to clean up some of these'' human rights problems.