Bush, Vietnam President Hold Historic Meeting
President Bush and Vietnam President Nguyen Minh Triet discussed trade and human rights issues at a Friday meeting that marked the first time a Vietnamese president has visited the White House in more than three decades.
President Bush said he told Triet that he is impressed with the growing Vietnamese economy and wants to have a good, business relationship with the southeast Asian nation.
The president also said he thanked the Communist leader for his cooperation in resolving issues surrounding U.S. service members who were prisoners of war or have been missing in action since the Vietnam War.
But across the street from the White House, dozens of protesters demonstrated against what they said is Triet's repressive regime.
Triet is leading a delegation of more than 100 Vietnamese businessmen on a trip that is to include a visit to Orange County, Calif., to encourage trade between the U.S. and Vietnam. Trade between the two countries reached nearly $10 billion last year, a benefit of the 2001 bilateral trade agreement.
On Thursday, Triet signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement with the United States. The agreement sometimes leads to free trade negotiations.
But President Bush said he stressed the importance of human rights issues. "I also made it very clear that in order for relations to grow deeper, that it's important for our friends to have a strong commitment to human rights and freedom and democracy," President Bush said.
Triet thanked the president for the hospitality he has been shown during his U.S. visit. He said their discussions have been productive and the two leaders agree it is important to continue bilateral talks.
Triet acknowleged that he and President Bush view religious and human rights issues differently, but he said they agreed not to allow those differences to affect larger interests.
"Mr. President and I also had direct and open exchange of views on a matter that we remain different, especially on matters related to religion and human rights, and our approach is that we would increase our dialogue in order to have a better understanding of each other," Triet said. "And we are also determined not to let those differences afflict our overall larger interests."
Congressional leaders criticized Triet's government after a Thursday meeting, citing reports by human rights groups that Vietnam is increasingly repressive of political activists and religious leaders.
In recent months, Vietnam has arrested or sentenced at least eight pro-democracy activists, including two human rights lawyers and a dissident Catholic priest. The actions had threatened to derail Triet's trip, but Hanoi responded by releasing three high-profile political prisoners.
Triet remained focused on encouraging U.S. business interests in Vietnam. He called for more U.S. business investment in his country in a speech to business leaders, saying his government is working to create a friendly business environment.
From NPR and The Associated Press reports.
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