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US Diplomat Visits Vietnamese Dissident Monk


A senior U.S. diplomat has visited Vietnamese dissident Buddhist monk Thich Quang Do in the pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City where he is under house arrest. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Eric John met with Do on Monday. Do urged the U.S. to link its economic relationship with Vietnam to progress on human rights. In Hanoi, Matt Steinglass has more.

The International Buddhist Information Bureau in Paris said Tuesday that Thich Quang Do urged the United States to respond to a series of recent arrests of Vietnamese political dissidents.

He told visiting U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Eric John that the U.S. should "link economic relations with human rights, and use trade and aid as leverage" to pressure Vietnam on human rights issues.

But John said the U.S. would continue its policy of friendly engagement with Vietnam.

"We already have a process for dealing with human rights issues in Vietnam," he said. "[And as I stated,] there've been some incidents that we view with regret recently, but we think that the process that we've set up for handling human rights has yielded, over the long run, improvements in human rights here."

At a news conference in Hanoi, John emphasized the improvement in U.S.-Vietnamese relations, and said the U.S. offered its opinions on Vietnamese human rights issues because the two countries are "friends."

John played down the significance of his meeting with Thich Quang Do.

"It's something you do normally in diplomacy," said John. "It's not unusual that I'd do that in Vietnam. We do that everywhere."

The 78-year-old dissident monk is secretary-general of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam. The government allows only the officially approved Vietnam Buddhist Sangha.

Do has spent years in prison for his religious activities, and has been confined to his pagoda by police since 2001.

A growing number of Vietnamese dissidents have been arrested in the past two months, including lawyers Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan, as well as Father Nguyen Van Ly.

Last Thursday, Vietnamese police blocked the wives of two arrested dissidents when they tried to attend a tea at the house of U.S. Ambassador Michael Marine, along with U.S. Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez. Marine and Sanchez protested about the incident to the Vietnamese government.