Albright to visit Vietnam as ties strengthen
HANOI - U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright visits communist Vietnam next week, capping a flurry
of bilateral activity that has brought the former foes close to
normalising trade ties.
Some analysts said that despite wide differences over Hanoi's
human rights record and the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia this
year, overall relations were probably at their best since the two
sides established diplomatic ties in 1995.
Albright's talks with Vietnamese leaders on Monday and
Tuesday are expected to cover trade, human rights and the
accounting of 2,050 Americans still listed as missing from the
Vietnam War, which ended in 1975.
She will also likely discuss boosting cooperation aimed at
stemming the flow of hard drugs through Vietnam from the
Golden Triangle, where Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet.
Albright, who first visited Vietnam in 1997, will make the trip en
route to a summit of Asia Pacific leaders in New Zealand.
``I think you can say ties are as good as at any time since 1995
because the central fact driving the relationship has been the
accounting for American MIAs,'' said Carlyle Thayer, from the
Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii.
Washington has regularly praised Hanoi for helping account for
the MIAs, long an emotional topic in the United States, which
was rent by a war in which it backed South Vietnam against the
ultimately victorious communist North.
But more recently a key factor driving relations has been
progress in normalising trade ties.
The two sides last month reached preliminary agreement on a
trade pact, which will clear the way for Washington to award
Hanoi with Normal Trade Relations, giving Vietnam access to
the giant U.S. market at low tariff rates applied to most nations.
The deal, long awaited by investors because it will commit
Hanoi to opening its economy and lowering business costs, is
expected to be formally signed in the next month.
It will then need to be approved by the U.S. Congress.
But diplomatic niggles remain, partly reflecting a complex
relationship due to the baggage of the Vietnam War.
Hanoi's state media vilified Washington and NATO during the
Western alliance's bombing of Yugoslavia this year, drawing
parallels to Vietnam's own experience as the target of air raids
by U.S. B-52 bombers during the Vietnam War.
Party sources say the elite Politburo had even contemplated
sending mobs to stone the U.S. embassy in Hanoi to express
Vietnamese outrage over the NATO air strikes.
Thayer told Reuters that Albright's decision to visit the country
had also prompted Hanoi to postpone a trip by U.S. Defence
Secretary William Cohen scheduled for late September.
``Hanoi appeared to be uncomfortable in the post-Kosovo era
of being seen to have two U.S. heavyweights on their territory
in the same month,'' said Thayer, a leading expert on Vietnam.
No date has been set for Cohen's rescheduled visit.
Vietnam's poor human rights record has also been an irritant,
although U.S. concerns about political prisoners, treatment of
dissidents and restrictions on religion are usually channelled
through regular bilateral dialogue on human rights.
Reuters - August 31, 1999.