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Cablegate: The Ambassador's March 10 Meeting with Minister Of

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: The Ambassador's March 10 Meeting with Minister of
the Office of the Government Doan Manh Giao

Refs: A) Hanoi 314; B) Hanoi 584

1. (SBU) Summary: The Ambassador met March 10 with Minister
of the Office of the Government Doan Manh Giao, the
equivalent of the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff. The
Ambassador described the current state of play of Ambassador
at Large for International Religious Freedom John Hanford's
ongoing religious freedom discussions with Ministry of
Foreign Affairs officials and underlined that the two sides
are very near to closing the gap between them. The
Ambassador also stressed the importance of access to the
Central Highlands by USG officials, expressed concern about
the rumored decision of the GVN to postpone the long-planned
March 29-31 U.S. Navy ship visit and urged the GVN to be
ready to move forward in next week's bilateral WTO accession
talks. The Ambassador also described the need for Vietnam
to work harder to improve the investment environment and
conditions for U.S. companies. Minister Giao promised to
report on the religious freedom talks to Prime Minister Phan
Van Khai and Deputy Prime Minister Vu Khoan, said that U.S.
officials are welcome to travel to the Central Highlands any
time to learn more about the situation there and noted that
the PM expressed support for the U.S. ship visit going
forward as planned. He also described Vietnam's interest in
improving the bilateral environment before the Prime
Minister's (proposed) visit to the United States. This
includes the GVN's focus on a number of issues of specific
interest to the United States and U.S. firms. End Summary.

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2. (SBU) The Ambassador met officially for the first time
March 10 with Minister of the Office of the Government Doan
Manh Giao. Pol/C and MFA Americas Department Deputy
Director Pham Van Que also attended. (Note: The Office of
the Government is the support organization for the Prime
Minister and three Deputy Prime Ministers and plays an inter-
agency coordinating role. Minister Giao is akin to the
Prime Minister's Chief of Staff. The Ambassador met
Minister Giao once before, during the visit of NSC Senior
Director for Asia Michael Green (Ref A). End note.)
Minister Giao opened by describing his office as "very busy"
as it prepares for major bilateral events, such as the tenth
anniversary of the normalization of relations, the Prime
Minister's upcoming visit to the United States and President
Bush's travel to Vietnam on the occasion of APEC 2006.

3. (SBU) Invited by Minister Giao to begin the discussion,
the Ambassador raised religious freedom, noting that the
GVN's efforts in recent months to focus on this issue have
been impressive. The Prime Minister's Instruction on
Protestantism and the Ordinance on Religion's Implementation
Decree, if carried out as planned, could create a clear path
to removing religious freedom as a matter of concern between
our two governments. Ambassador at Large for International
Religious Freedom John Hanford has been in Hanoi for nearly
a week to have detailed discussions with the GVN on creating
a framework to avoid taking negative Country of Particular
Concern-related actions at this time. Ambassador Hanford's
discussions, particularly at the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs, have been very good. His goal is to work towards a
simple agreement between the USG and GVN to allow us to take
a non-sanction action against Vietnam next week. We are
very close, but it appears that a simple agreement is not
something Vietnam is willing to conclude. Ambassador
Hanford may thus have to return to Washington empty handed,
the Ambassador observed.

4. (SBU) We still hope that there is room to reach an
agreement, the Ambassador continued. If not, we remain
committed to working with the GVN on this issue. The United
States recognizes that, as important as the issue of
religious freedom is, it is only one aspect of the overall
bilateral relationship, which is more important than any of
its parts. However, to achieve the kind of success we both
want, the United States and Vietnam have to find a way
forward on this matter, the Ambassador said.

5. (SBU) Describing his recent trip to the Central
Highlands, the Ambassador said he was very impressed by the
attitudes of local officials in Dak Lak and Lam Dong
Provinces. Although these provinces are not as economically
advanced as Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, they have policies in
place that could bring benefits to both ethnic Kinh
Vietnamese and members of ethnic minority groups in the
region. Local officials' level of understanding of the
importance of religious freedom and the Government's new
policies is also impressive. We look forward to having our
staff in both the Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City and
the Embassy return regularly to the Central Highlands to
assess the situation on the ground. Access to the region
will also be important as the Tripartite Memorandum of
Understanding among Vietnam, Cambodia and the UNHCR comes
into full effect with the return to Vietnam of those
Montagnards who crossed into Cambodia. The USG hopes that
the GVN will encourage local authorities to allow visitors
to have access to the Central Highlands to give Washington
the complete picture of what is going on in the region, the
Ambassador said.

6. (SBU) A significant bilateral event on the horizon is the
upcoming visit to Ho Chi Minh City by a U.S. warship, the
Ambassador continued. The ship is scheduled to arrive in
Vung Tau on March 29 and then proceed to the Port of Saigon.
We have been looking forward to this event, but there are
indications that some in the Office of the Government want
to delay the visit until June. We are willing to work with
the GVN to accommodate its needs, but a postponement offers
no assurance that the visit could take place in June, the
Ambassador stressed.

7. (SBU) On the issue of religious freedom, Minister Giao
said that the Prime Minister's Instruction and the
Implementation Decree represent the "real policies" of the
GVN. However, implementation at the local level cannot
always be as "complete as expected." Giao offered his
assurance that the GVN will take "strict control" of local
implementation, especially at the village and commune
levels, to ensure that this and other Government policies
are implemented properly. Vietnam understands U.S. concerns
about this issue but also urges the United States to
recognize that U.S. and Vietnamese concepts about this issue
are different. The GVN has worked a long time on this
matter, and its efforts can be seen in recent policies and
improvements, Giao observed.

8. (SBU) Minister Giao reported that he has been following
Ambassador Hanford's discussions and noted that it seems
that, although differences remain, the two sides have
reached a "certain understanding." The GVN is aware of the
"special interest" the United States attaches to religious
issues and also understands the importance of events we are
preparing for, such as the Prime Minister's visit and the
tenth anniversary commemoration. Minister Giao himself
attaches importance to these issues. The GVN will consider
in an "objective manner" the comments made by the U.S. side,
and Minister Giao pledged to report this matter to the Prime
Minister and discuss it the next morning with Deputy Prime
Minister Vu Khoan, with whom he would meet to discuss the
Prime Minister's visit to the United States.

9. (SBU) On the Central Highlands, the GVN has no reason not
to welcome visits to the region by the Ambassador or other
Embassy or Consulate General officials if the goal is to
understand the situation there or increase understanding
regarding religion, ethnic minority groups or the local
authorities' implementation of policy, Minister Giao said.
There have been reports from local officials that, since the
release of the Prime Minister's Instruction and the
Implementation Decree, the situation for religious groups in
the Central Highlands has improved. The GVN's goal is to
differentiate between real religious followers and those who
"abuse religious activities for their own purposes,"
Minister Giao said.

10. (SBU) On the U.S. Navy ship visit, the Minister said he
received a report that a Thai ship (NFI) would be in Vung
Tau the same day (March 29) as the American vessel.
However, the Prime Minister has told him that the U.S. ship
"should get priority." Minister Giao expressed his hope
that the Ministry of Defense would reconsider and be in
touch with the U.S. side about this matter.

11. (SBU) Returning to Ambassador Hanford's visit and its
ultimate goal, the Ambassador noted that it is unusual for
someone of Ambassador Hanford' stature to spend so much time
in one country. (Note: Ambassador Hanford arrived March 3
and was still in Hanoi on March 10. End note.) This
reflects Ambassador Hanford's belief that Vietnam has put in
place the right policies related to religious freedom.
Under U.S. law, the President must take action this month on
all countries designated as Countries of Particular Concern.
There is a range of possible actions and most involve
economic sanctions. That said, the USG believes that this
is not the right action to take for Vietnam. The law has a
provision for the option of an agreement between the United
States and Vietnam, and that is what we are working on, the
language of which echoes efforts that Vietnam is already
undertaking. We are not asking Vietnam to take any new
action. With the right instructions, Vice Foreign Minister
Le Van Bang (Note: The most senior of Ambassador Hanford's
interlocutors. End note.) can work with the United States
in one more day of hard negotiations to find a solution, the
Ambassador stressed.

12. (SBU) On WTO, the Ambassador noted that there will be
another round of bilateral negotiations next week. As the
Ambassador told Vice Minister of Trade Tu the day before
(Ref B), the United States is prepared to try to move
forward, but Vietnam must also be ready to move. We cannot
stay in our current positions. The U.S. side has recently
handed over seven pages of steps Vietnam can take in the
services sector to move us closer to a bilateral agreement.
This is an example of the kind of actions Vietnam needs to
be prepared to discuss and eventually take. Reaching a
bilateral WTO agreement before the Prime Minister's proposed
visit is possible, but it is increasingly difficult because
the clock is ticking. The United States remains supportive
of Vietnam's WTO bid, as seen in our statements and actions
in the multilateral forum in Geneva, but we need accelerated
action from Vietnam. This includes Vietnam's providing the
United States and others with draft laws to allow us to see
if they are up to WTO standards, the Ambassador said.

13. (SBU) Continuing, the Ambassador said that Vietnam must
also work to create an environment in which the USG can
support and Congress can pass this year Permanent Normal
Trade Relations (PNTR) legislation. American businesses
remain concerned about Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA)
compliance and the overall environment for doing business in
Vietnam. We know that a number of major GVN procurement
projects are in the offing and believe that U.S. firms are
well positioned to win contracts, such as for aircraft
(Boeing), the Ministry of Finance's TABMIS project (multiple
U.S. bidders) and Vinasat (Lockheed-Martin). We are
confident that U.S. firms' technological superiority and
price competitiveness make them strong contenders, but the
sooner these deals are concluded, the better for the PNTR
vote, the Ambassador noted.

14. (SBU) Minister Giao reported that he recently attended a
GVN meeting at which a large number of draft WTO-related
legal documents were approved for eventual National Assembly
and National Assembly Standing Committee approval and
adoption. The GVN would soon be ready to send its revised
laws to WTO members for their review. The revision of more
than 20 major legal documents is "heavy" and "complicated"
work, and any delay will be because of technical
difficulties, not a "lack of good faith" on the part of the
GVN, Giao emphasized.

15. (SBU) Minister Giao said he fully shares the
Ambassador's opinion about the need for an improved
investment climate in Vietnam. In the context of bilateral
relations in the run-up to the Prime Minister's visit, the
PM requested relevant ministries and agencies to consider
"specific issues related to U.S. companies" and "come up
with solutions." Some of the specific issues include Boeing
aircraft, the auto tax, insurance license applications and
business consulting in Vietnam. In short, Vietnam will try
to create the "most favorable" atmosphere and to have
"concrete improvements" in bilateral relations, Minister
Giao said.

16. (SBU) Vietnam plans to conclude "seven or eight"
agreements before the Prime Minister's visit, and Minister
Giao asked that the USG do what is necessary to wrap up
these agreements and conclude a "joint communique" that will
have seven major points. Minister Giao also noted that,
during his meeting with Senior Director Green, the two had
discussed "cooperative relations" between the Office of the
Government and the "Office of the President." Giao
requested that the Ambassador assist with establishing
contact. An OOG staffer will travel to Washington at the
end of March as a part of VFM Le Van Bang's delegation and
hopes to have meetings at the "Office of the President" to
learn more about how it functions, Giao said. The
Ambassador suggested, and Giao agreed, that this staffer
meet beforehand with someone from the Embassy to assess what
is needed.

17. (SBU) Comment: As during his meeting with the NSC's Dr.
Green, Minister Giao was on top of his brief and spoke
directly to the point. As the Prime Minister's "Chief of
Staff," he seems genuinely interested in ensuring that
bilateral relations remain stable and progress smoothly in
the run-up to the PM's visit. We will follow up with the
Office of the Government on Giao's request to faciliate
greater contact between the Office and the USG. End

18. (SBU) Bio note: Giao was born in Hue 1944. He
graduated from Vietnam Military Academy as an engineer and
went on to teach there. Giao did further studies in China
and speaks Chinese. In 1983 he started work at the Office
of the Government as a China expert. From 1992 - 2001, he
was Vice Chairman of the Government Office and was promoted
to Minister and Chairman in 2001. He appears to understand
English but does not use it in official meetings.


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