Cablegate: Ambassador's September 16 Meeting with Assistant

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.






E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Ambassador's September 16 Meeting with Assistant
Foreign Minister Nguyen Duc Hung

1. (SBU) Summary: The Ambassador met for the first time
September 16 with Assistant Foreign Minister (and Americas
Department Director General) Nguyen Duc Hung. Following a
brief discussion of VFM Phung's upcoming U.S. visit and
Vietnam's efforts to reach out to members of Congress, the
issue of religious freedom and the designation of Vietnam as
a "Country of Particular Concern" loomed large. Hung
described Vietnamese public opinion as "not happy" and said
the Foreign Ministry would soon issue a statement. The
United States had ignored the positive developments in
Vietnam over the past several years in the area of religious
freedom and in the lives of ethnic minorities, Hung
stressed, and Vietnam's new religion law would guarantee
freedom of religion and prevent forced renunciations. In
addition, there were several instances of "fabrications" in
the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Report. Vietnam
hoped to find an "appropriate" way to resolve this, and
urged the United States not to use "coercion," "sanctions,"
or "an embargo." Hung said that discussion of PM Khai's
proposed visit to the United States and other aspects of a
bilateral "way forward" should most appropriately be
discussed after the U.S. election. On the subject of
bilateral HIV/AIDS prevention cooperation, Hung said the MFA
would actively participate in an interagency committee to be
headed by the Ministry of Health. End Summary.

2. (SBU) The Ambassador, accompanied by DCM and Pol/C, met
over lunch September 16 with Assistant Foreign Minister (and
Americas Department Director General) Nguyen Duc Hung and
Americas Department Deputy Director General Nguyen Ba Hung.
This was the Ambassador's first meeting with AFM Hung. Hung
opened by outlining the itinerary of Senior Vice Foreign
Minister Phung's upcoming trip to Washington, D.C., and New
York City, noting that VFM Phung would meet with Deputy
Secretary Armitage on September 21 and IRF Ambassador

Hanford on September 22. VFM Phung, who was in charge of
"strategic research" and "relations with major powers,"
would also meet with a number of Senators on September 23,
including Senators Lugar, Biden, Hagel, and possibly McCain.
VFM Phung and delegation would then travel to New York City
for participation in the UNGA. Normally, FM Nien would have
attended, but responsibilities for the Asia-Europe Meeting
(ASEM) would not allow this, Hung said. The GVN was
particularly interested in UN Security Council reform, and
agreed with the majority of nations that the UNSC's
Permanent Members should reflect a balance of both developed
and developing countries.

3. (SBU) Hung agreed with the Ambassador that Vietnamese
delegations should also try to meet those in Congress who
were "not happy" with Vietnam and added that, two years
before, GVN representatives had tried to meet with
Congressman Chris Smith, but that he had declined the
request. Hung was grateful for the Ambassador's offer to
try to help facilitate such meetings in the future and said
that, in spite of differences with Congressman Smith and
others regarding human rights and religious freedom, there
were areas -- such as counternarcotics and preventing
trafficking in persons -- in which there was no daylight
between the United States and Vietnam. Senator Brownback
and Congressmen Smith and Rohrabacher had strong
convictions, Hung said, but there were those in Vietnam who
also had strong convictions, and the bilateral relationship
would benefit from both sides meeting, arguing, debating,
and even disagreeing, as long as it was done in an
atmosphere of mutual respect.

4. (SBU) Turning to the designation of Vietnam as a "Country
of Particular Concern," Hung said that Vietnamese public
opinion was "not happy" and the Foreign Ministry would soon
issue a statement. This was "regrettable," and Vietnam
could not agree with the designation. Vietnam had done much
over the past two years in the areas of human rights and
religious freedom, particularly after the United States had
expressed concern about these issues. Vietnam understood
the concerns of the U.S. Executive Branch, Congress, and the
American people, particularly the Vietnamese-American
community. The GVN had a policy of equal treatment for all
religions without discrimination, and this was particularly
true for those ethnic minority adherents living in the
Central Highlands. Compared to ten or twenty years ago,
there had been many social, political, and economic changes
in Vietnam. No society was perfect -- even the United
States had to work to improve its own society -- and Vietnam
was trying hard to raise the standard of living for all
Vietnamese, including religious adherents and members of
ethnic minority groups, Hung said.

5. (SBU) The United States had "ignored" the positive
developments in Vietnamese society, Hung continued, and
Vietnam was not happy. Hung recognized that people were
displeased with the behavior of a "handful" of local
authorities. Over the past two years, Vietnam had tried to
follow the "mainstream" in the bilateral relationship and
work for long-term stability. Many new elements in the
relationship had emerged over the past two years, benefiting
both countries. Human rights and religious freedom were
sensitive and unavoidable issues between the United States
and Vietnam. Both sides had to have an "appropriate" way to
resolve this issue without "coercion." Hung urged the USG
not to "go back to the history of sanctions and embargo"
and, instead, work for the benefit of the two peoples.

6. (SBU) In response, the Ambassador stressed that the issue
of religious freedom was an important one to many Americans.
The United States sought the adherence of all nations to
international standards of human rights and religious
freedom. There had been improvements in Vietnam, but there
were still those, some of whom lived in the Central
Highlands, who did not enjoy religious freedom. Asked by
AFM Hung what Vietnam could do to avoid sanctions, the
Ambassador said that the establishment and registration of
new churches in the Central Highlands would be a major step
forward. How the new ordinance on religion was implemented
would be another key issue. The Ambassador urged AFM Hung
to help Mission staff to understand the situation in the
Central Highlands by facilitating unrestricted travel there.
While systemic change in Vietnam was critical, the release
of high-profile prisoners would also have a positive impact.
Forced renunciations presented a major problem, and finding
a way to prevent these would be a significant, welcome step,
the Ambassador said. However, dealing with the designation
issue was complex, and there was no "automatic" way to get
Vietnam off of the list.

7. (SBU) Hung said he and his colleagues would study these
steps and discuss them with Ambassador Hanford. However,
Vietnam already had measures in place to respond to many of
the USG's concerns, but apparently not to the extent that
they met the "understanding" of the United States. New
churches had opened up and the GVN had reduced the sentences
of high-profile prisoners. Unfortunately, there were some
"incidents" in the IRF Report that were "groundless" and
"fabricated," such as the reports of a rape of a pastor's
wife or the killing of religious followers, Hung argued.
The Ambassador urged the GVN to give us its take on the IRF
Report, particularly in areas it felt the USG was wrong. It
was good to have a dialogue on the facts, and it was not the
intent of the United States to have incorrect information in
our report, nor was it in our interest to do so.

8. (SBU) On the subject of forced renunciations, Hung said
that, according to Vietnam's new law on religion, forced
renunciations would simply not be allowed in any form. The
GVN guaranteed the right of freedom of religion, and no one
could infringe on this. Similarly, people could voluntarily
choose to believe in any religion and could voluntarily
participate in all religious activities. By the same token,
people had the right to cease believing in any religion.
The key was that religious belief would take place on a
voluntary basis, Hung said. The Ambassador observed that
how this new law was implemented and disseminated would be
key and added that having a senior Vietnamese official speak
out on the subject would send an important message.

9. (SBU) Turning to the subject of a roadmap for the
bilateral relationship in the coming months, the Ambassador
noted that VFM Phung would likely be asked about the
possibility of PM Khai's visit next year or a visit by
Politburo member Phan Dien before that. Hung said that,
before the U.S. Presidential election, it was "not
appropriate" to discuss this issue, but it could be
discussed after the election.

10. (SBU) On the subject of recent visa difficulties
experienced by "D" visa holders visiting Vietnam, Hung said
that this was more a subject for the Consular Department,
but added that Minister Nien himself had been made aware of
the issue.

11. (SBU) Hung agreed with the Ambassador that cooperation
in HIV/AIDS prevention was an important bilateral area and
noted that MFA was working with the Ministry of Health to
set up an interagency committee. The Ambassador urged MFA
to play a leading role in this committee because of the
important policy issues that would come up in the future.

12. (SBU) Hung said that the two sides had managed to move
the bilateral relationship forward in spite of the
difficulties that arose because of the war in Iraq and
expressed his confidence that the United States and Vietnam
could continue to find areas to move forward. The
Ambassador agreed that there were many areas with potential
for further cooperation, such as counter-terrorism and
intelligence sharing. The Ambassador noted that another
area requiring continued cooperation -- the acquisition of
the land for a new U.S. Embassy -- demanded our immediate
attention, and Hung described this as a "headache,"
particularly since the officials in Russia responsible for
the issue had changed. Hung assured the Ambassador that, in
spite of signs that the Hanoi People's Committee was
attempting to "shop around" the land the USG hoped to
purchase, the "Deputy Prime Minister is still more powerful
than the Chairman of the Hanoi People's Committee."


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