Ray of hope for Viet­nam

Lesotho Times - - International -

said the em­bargo lift­ing was still “un­der pe­ri­odic re­view” and would be looked at se­ri­ously, although he made it clear Viet­nam’s com­mit­ment to hu­man rights would be cen­tral to any de­ci­sion.

“One of the im­por­tant fac­tors that would make a lift of the ban pos­si­ble would be to con­tinue for­ward mo­men­tum in meet­ing univer­sal hu­man rights stan­dards and progress in im­por­tant le­gal re­form,” Rus­sel told re­porters.

Mali­nowski is not sched­uled to speak to me­dia dur­ing his trip.

It was not clear whether Obama was lean­ing for or against end­ing the em­bargo ahead of his trip, which will make him the third con­sec­u­tive U.S. pres­i­dent to visit Viet­nam.

Obama eased the ban on lethal arms sales to Viet­nam in Oc­to­ber 2014, al­low­ing ship­ments of de­fen­sive mar­itime equip­ment to help Hanoi build up its de­ter­rent to China’s pur­suit of its claims in the South China Sea, which con­flict with those of its neigh­bours such as Viet­nam and U.S. ally the Philip­pines.

John Sifton, Asia ad­vo­cacy direc­tor for Hu­man Rights Watch, said lift­ing the arms ban would be “un­de­served at this time.” The group, in an April 27 let­ter sent to Obama, de­scribed the Viet­namese govern­ment as “among the most re­pres­sive in the world.”

While a num­ber of U.S. law­mak­ers favour closer mil­i­tary ties with Viet­nam be­cause of shared con­cerns about China, oth­ers have deep mis­giv­ings.

Demo­cratic U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Loretta Sanchez, a mem­ber of the Con­gres­sional Cau­cus on Viet­nam who also has a large Viet­namese-amer­i­can vot­ing bloc in her Cal­i­for­nia dis­trict, said lift­ing the em­bargo would be “giv­ing a free pass to a govern­ment that con­tin­u­ally ha­rasses, de­tains and im­pris­ons its cit­i­zens.”

Obama has the power to by­pass Congress to lift the em­bargo. But his ad­min­is­tra­tion would hope for sup­port from Repub­li­can U.S. Se­na­tor John Mccain, a dec­o­rated for­mer pris­oner of war in North Viet­nam who backed the 2014 par­tial lift­ing.

Some U.S. of­fi­cials see signs that Viet­nam is start­ing to pay at­ten­tion to hu­man rights crit­i­cism.

But con­cerns re­main over the govern­ment’s heavy-hand­ed­ness to­ward po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents and treat­ment of work­ers and there is worry that Washington will lose some lever­age if it gives up the arms em­bargo without se­cur­ing con­ces­sions for re­forms.

One se­nior U.S. of­fi­cial sug­gested that it might be best for now to “set the is­sue of the lethal weapons ban aside.”

“These things do take time,” the of­fi­cial said. But oth­ers said the door should re­main open to lift­ing the em­bargo as prepa­ra­tions pro­ceed for Obama’s visit.

If Obama opts against re­mov­ing the ban for now, an­other op­tion that might mol­lify the Viet­namese would be cre­at­ing a “work­ing group” to map out the path to­ward do­ing so, one US of­fi­cial said. — Reuters

US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama

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