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    Vietnamese President, Bush Discuss Economy, Human Rights

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    U.S. President George Bush and Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet met at the White House Friday to discuss human rights and commercial ties. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns has more about the first U.S. visit by a Vietnamese president since the Vietnam war.

    With flag-waving Vietnamese-Americans protesting outside the White House gate, President Bush welcomed President Triet to the Oval Office saying he is impressed by Vietnam's growing economy.

    Mr. Bush said America has good economic relations with Vietnam, but the country must improve its human rights record to take that relationship further.

    "I also made it very clear that in order for relations to grow deeper, that it is important for our friends to have a strong commitment to human rights and freedom and democracy," said President Bush. "I explained my strong belief that societies are enriched when people are allowed to express themselves freely or worship freely."

    President Bush criticized Vietnam's human rights record in a speech to a pro-democracy forum in the Czech Republic earlier this month, saying President Triet's government has imprisoned peaceful religious and political activists.

    Vietnam is a one-party communist state.

    The human rights group Amnesty International last month called on Vietnamese authorities to reform a penal code criminalizing peaceful dissent following prison terms for three leading dissidents.

    President Triet has downplayed human rights issues during this trip to the United States. In New York earlier this week, he said all the people in Vietnamese jails are criminals.

    Following his White House talks, the Vietnamese leader said human rights are a small part of a much larger relationship.

    "Mr. President and I also had a direct and open exchange of views on a matter that we remain different, especially on matters related to religion and human rights," he said.

    He says the leaders agreed to increase their dialogue in order to better understand each other's position on human rights and not let those differences affect their larger commercial interests. Trade between the two counries last year totaled nearly $10 billion.

    President Bush thanked the Vietnamese leader for his help in searching for the remains of Americans killed during the Vietnam War. President Triet thanked the American leader for help in dealing with the continuing effects of deadly chemicals used by U.S. forces during that conflict.

     

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