Bush, Triet Talk Trade, Human Rights

Nguyen Minh Triet is the first Vietnamese head of state to visit the White House since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. On Friday, he and President Bush discussed human rights and trade. Scores of Vietnamese business executives are traveling with Triet.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

For the first time since the war, the leader of Vietnam has visited Washington, D.C. President Nguyen Minh Triet met with President Bush today. They signed a trade agreement, and Mr. Bush raised the issue of human rights. On his way home, President Triet is stopping in Southern California. Many in the Vietnamese community there are unhappy, and we'll hear about that in a few minutes.

First, here's NPR's Michele Kelemen with a report on today's diplomacy and the protest that accompanied it.

MICHELE KELEMEN: President Bush took no questions after the Oval Office meeting. He just briefly ran through some of the themes, from a growing trade relationship to the joint search for Americans missing in Vietnam and the long-term effects of America's use of the defoliant Agent Orange in the war.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: 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, freedom and democracy.

KELEMEN: Vietnam's President Nguyen Minh Triet said he and President Bush had open and direct discussions about their differences on human rights.

President NGUYEN MINH TRIET (Vietnam): (Through translator) And we are also determined not to let those differences afflict our overall larger interest.

KELEMEN: The Vietnamese president came here with more than a hundred business executives. He signed the trade and investment framework agreement with President Bush, and as he put it, high-value economic contracts with American corporations. He says American business leaders showed him great hospitality, as did a farmer who he said kept hugging him.

Pres. TRIET (Vietnam): (Through translator) And that demonstrate the desire for friendship between our two peoples.

KELEMEN: But his meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill yesterday seemed to be a bit testy. While Triet tried to keep the conversation focused on trade, California Republican Ed Royce and others brought up the thorny issue of human rights and the lack of political freedoms in Vietnam's one-party system.

Representative ED ROYCE (Republican, California): Silencing distance and suppressing religious freedoms are not the way for a close partnership, and I think that's the message that's being delivered here.

KELEMEN: Congressman Royce said he found the Vietnamese leader evasive when answering questions and concerns about a crackdown on Internet users and religious figures.

Rep. ROYCE: It is the worst crackdown on peaceful distance in 20 years in Vietnam. And if you look at the list of arrests and especially for those who watched the show trial of Fr. Ly, a Catholic priest, who tried to speak out in his one-hour trial and was muzzled, physically muzzled in his chair, this is what's caught the attention of the NGO community worldwide.

KELEMEN: Not only NGOs or non-governmental organizations are paying attention, hundreds of Vietnamese-Americans wore T-shirts today with that image on it of Fr. Ly being muzzled in the courtroom.

(Soundbite of protestors)

Unidentified Woman: Freedom for Vietnam.

Unidentified Group: Freedom.

Unidentified Woman: Human rights for Vietnam.

Unidentified Group: Human rights.

KELEMEN: The anti-communist protestors came from all over the U.S. and Canada to chant and sing outside the White House while Vietnam's communist president sat down for lunch with President Bush. President Triet said he hopes Vietnamese-Americans will be a bridge of friendship between the two nations, though that was not the mood outside.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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