~ Le ViÍt Nam, aujourd'hui. ~
The Vietnam News

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Vietnam pledges to improve human rights, US ties

WASHINGTON - Vietnam pledged Wednesday to improve its human rights record and work with former battlefield enemy the United States to strengthen investment, trade and people-to-people ties.

"We have differences, but for the sake of future development of relations, we have to tackle the differences, try to find a good solution with wisdom," said the new Vietnamese envoy to Washington, Le Cong Phung. "Otherwise, we cannot solve the problem or we may even make it worse," he told reporters at a rare press conference at the embassy here, a day after presenting his credentials to President George W. Bush.

Phung said Bush raised the issue of human rights and democracy at their meeting but also acknowledged that the two countries "realized the differences" and would try to resolve them through a "constructive, respectful attitude and candid way." "I can assure you human rights is improving ... In 2008, (it) will be much better when compared to 2007. That is what my government is going to do, try to make our people (lead) happy lives," he said.

The United States and Vietnam have a twice yearly human rights dialogue, in which Washington raises questions on religious freedom and democratic reforms in the rapidly growing Southeast Asian nation. Angered by what it sees as a breach of promise by Hanoi to embrace reforms when it joined the World Trade Organization more than a year ago, the US House of Representatives has passed binding legislation that will tie US foreign aid to Vietnam to its human rights record.

Vietnamese Americans, a growing political force in the United States, have also been prodding lawmakers to exert more presssure on the communist government in Hanoi to improve human rights. But Phung said it was unfair to compare the rights record of Vietnam, which went through about four decades of war after independence from France in 1945, with that of the United States, an independent nation for more than two centuries. "We cannot have harmonized positions because our conditions and circumstances are different," he said, adding however that he was prepared "to talk to every Vietnamese American" to understand their feelings.

Despite differences, he said Vietnam and the United States "are in the best times of their relations." Hanoi, he said, was determined to enhance economic, trade and investment cooperation with the United States. Washington lifted a trade embargo in 1994 and restored full ties the next year, two decades after the fall of Saigon in the Vietnam war.

Total trade between the two countries jumped to about 10 billion dollars in 2007, with US investments in Vietnam worth around 5.6 billion dollars, Phung said. He also said that Vietnam was inviting US groups to establish universities, colleges and training centers in Vietnam to build a pool of human resources that could complement foreign investments fuelling the economy. Hanoi would also send more students for higher education in the United States.

There are about 6,000 Vietnamese students in the United States at present and "I will not be surprised that in the next few years, the number may be up to 10,000, maybe more," he said.

By P. Parameswaran - Agence France Presse - January 23, 2007.