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    Vietnamese President Highlights Trade Ties With US

    Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet signed a trade and investment pact with the United States, as he vowed to improve the business climate in his fast-growing country. At the same time, U.S. lawmakers and human rights activists had sharply critical words for Vietnam's human rights situation. VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Washington.

    Healthy economic ties between the United States and Vietnam were the focus of Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet's speech Thursday to the U.S. business community.

    Mr. Triet is the first Vietnamese head of state to visit the United States since the two countries fought a lengthy war that ended in 1975.

    He said the war has passed, and now Vietnam is in peace. He added that Vietnam is for friendship and rapid development.

    As evidence that U.S.-Vietnam ties are forging ahead, trade between the two countries reached nearly $10 billion last year.

    Mr. Triet said more than a decade of reforms and entry into the World Trade Organization early this year have helped open Vietnam's economy.

    But he acknowledged that there is still much to be desired. And, in the words of his interpreter, he said his country is determined "to improve the overall business environment for businessmen and investors."

    In his speech, the Vietnamese leader did not address claims by rights groups that Vietnam has ignored human rights pledges and has sharply increased its repression of dissent.

    A group of Vietnamese dissidents wrote a letter to President Bush, decrying what they say is a worsening of the human rights situation in Vietnam since the American leader visited Hanoi in November 2006. The letter was read out at a news conference on Capitol Hill.

    "The Vietnamese authorities have callously launched a series of arrests and sentenced to years in prison any people who dare to speak up for human rights and democracy in Vietnam."

    Nearby, President Triet was welcomed to Congress by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

    "We look forward to having a serious discussion of issues raised by many of our members," said Nancy Pelosi.

    She said democracy in Vietnam and the U.S.-Vietnam trade relationship were two issues at the top of the agenda.

    Other U.S. lawmakers expressed their concern about Vietnam's human rights abuses.

    Congressman Ed Royce, a Republican from California says the crackdown on peaceful dissent in Vietnam is the worst he's seen in 20 years. He listed several things President Triet would have to say to satisfy him.

    "What he could do is to say I'm going to release these political prisoners," said Congressman Royce. "What he could do is say I'm going to cease blocking the broadcast of information into Vietnam. He could say I'm going to cease the efforts of our secret police in going after youth who use the Internet to discuss information."

    Mr. Triet meets with President Bush at the White House Friday.

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