President Bush begins a weeklong trip to Asia today. The highlight will be this weekend's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam. President Bush will be the second American president to visit the nation since the Vietnam War ended. President Clinton was the first six years ago. NPR's Michael Sullivan is in Hanoi and he joins us now. Hi, Michael.


BRAND: So President Bush will eventually be going to Hanoi, but he's stopping in a few other countries along the way, right?

SULLIVAN: Yeah, he's going to stop in Russia I believe, and then he's coming on in my region to Singapore and Indonesia on either end of the strip here to Vietnam. And both of them are regional allies in his war on terror and both have been active against al-Qaida-linked groups in the region, so I think that's one of the main reasons why he's choosing to stop in both of those countries before he comes here.

BRAND: Okay. And when he goes there, trade will be at the top of the agenda. Yesterday, Congress failed to pass legislation that would have normalized trade relations with Vietnam, and business leaders said they were shocked that that legislation failed. President Bush supports it. What's the reaction there in Vietnam?

SULLIVAN: Well, American businessmen here were shocked, but the Vietnamese government here was very, very upset, I think. We had a statement from the foreign ministry that indicated that. But, you know, most Vietnamese here feel a little sandbagged because they were counting on this thing happening. This was going to be one of the things they were going to trumpet at this APEC summit.

You know, last week they were also granted membership as the 150th country to join the WTO, and these two things together with the APEC summit were very much a big deal to the Vietnamese and they thought this was pretty much a done deal. And when this looked like it might run into some trouble last week, when there was a U.S. citizen, a Vietnamese born U.S. citizen on trial here on terrorism charges, she was convicted last week, on Friday. And this woman, her case had been championed by Florida Senator Mel Martinez, who had threatened to hold up this trade bill if her case was not resolved. Well, she was convicted on Friday and then she was let go on Sunday and deported on Monday. And that, to many people here, seemed to you know clear the air. I mean they basically thought they had a deal, and now they're wondering what happened to that deal.

BRAND: What would this bill do for Vietnam?

SULLIVAN: It will level the playing field for Vietnam when it comes to dealing with the U.S. on a whole range of trade issues. I mean it's going to let them have better access to U.S. markets. On the other hand, it's going to provide U.S. exporters, in theory, with greater access to the growing Vietnamese markets. So it's a win-win situation for both countries if it actually happens. And I think it probably will happen, but, you know, timing is everything. Perception is everything here. And so far this week it's gotten off to a bit of a rocky start.

BRAND: Let's talk about how the public is perceiving and receiving President Bush. When President Clinton arrived in Vietnam he was greeted with adoring crowds. People just - they lined up to see him, catch a glimpse of him. What is the public reaction to President Bush?

SULLIVAN: Here in Vietnam I think the reception will be a little more cool simply because there is the war in Iraq. You know, it is the 800-pound gorilla. And people here don't like the idea of the U.S. starting another war against a smaller country. So I think the people here like the idea that Vietnam has arrived on the world stage, if you will. Vietnam is a place that's on the move. It's not - Vietnam does not consider America an enemy anymore. They consider America a market, they consider Americans as competitors and as friends, and they want to look to the future. I mean they're not looking to the past anymore.

BRAND: NPR's Michael Sullivan in Hanoi. Thank you.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome.

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