WHITE HOUSE — U.S. President Barack Obama and Vietnam’s President Truong Tan Sang discussed trade and human rights when they met Thursday at the White House. They pledged to complete a regional-trade agreement by the end of the year.
After the meeting, Obama told reporters he and Sang agreed to help speed completion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP], a free-trade agreement involving nations in the Americas and Asia.
“We are committed to the ambitious goal of completing this agreement before the end of the year, because we know that this can create jobs and increase investment across the region and in both of our countries,” said Obama.
Several U.S. lawmakers, as well as labor groups, have asked the White House to suspend TPP talks with Vietnam until it addresses allegations that it suppresses basic freedoms.
Obama said he addressed the issue in his meeting with Sang, but he did not give details.
“We emphasized how the United States continues to believe that all of us have to respect issues like freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, and we had a very candid conversation about both the progress that Vietnam is making and the challenges that remain,” said Obama.
The Vietnamese leader indicated that no agreement has been reached on the issue.
“We also touched upon the war legacy issue, including human rights, which we still remain, which we still have differences on the issue,” Sang said.
The Republican Chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce, called Wednesday for Obama to confront Sang on human rights.
Royce asked, “Will the president of the United States lean across the table and say to President Sang, ‘Mr. President, will you release these political dissidents? You want a closer relationship with the United States. Will you release these young bloggers?’”
Sang’s visit to Washington comes as communist Vietnam is said to be re-evaluating its relations with China and considering allowing greater democracy.
The United States and Vietnamese leaders discussed efforts to peacefully resolve maritime disputes with China in the South China Sea and other parts of the Asia-Pacific region.
Obama said he appreciates Vietnam’s cooperation as the United States tries to recover service members missing since the Vietnam War. He also pledged to work with the government in Hanoi on environmental and health issues that continue in Vietnam because of the war.
Sang invited Obama to visit Vietnam. The president said he would try to do so before his term ends.