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Cablegate: Vice Foreign Minister Discusses Pm Visit, Religious

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: Vice Foreign Minister Discusses PM Visit, Religious
Freedom and WTO in AMCHAM Speech

1. (SBU) Summary: In a recent speech to the American
Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM), Vice Foreign Minister Le Van
Bang implied that a visit to Washington by Prime Minister
Phan Van Khai was almost a sure thing. He described steps
Vietnam has already taken to overcome the hurdle of
designation as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for
religious freedom violations. He emphasized that WTO
accession is Vietnam's top foreign policy goal, that the
United States is key to this and that the GVN would do all
in its power to move the process forward by late June when
he expects the Prime Minister to be in Washington. Among
the deliverables for the visit is a bilateral framework
agreement on assistance. In response to a question, the
Vice Foreign Minister said that the GVN does not want the
Agent Orange issue to "slow down" development of the
bilateral relationship. Finally, Bang indicated that, for
Vietnam, the upcoming East Asian Summit is not seen as
serious competition for a well-established institution like
APEC. End Summary.

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2. (U) Vice Foreign Minister Le Van Bang gave a wide ranging
talk on U.S. - Vietnamese relations at an AMCHAM lunch on
April 19. In addition to AMCHAM members, representatives of
the diplomatic corps, NGOs and the press were in the
audience. The remarks were off the record.

Diplomatic Priorities: Prime Minister Visit, CPC and WTO
--------------------------------------------- ------------

3. (SBU) A visit by Prime Minister Phan Van Khai to the
United States in the second quarter of 2005 would be an
important event. Such a visit would advance Vietnam's
efforts to join the WTO, the country's most important
foreign policy objective. A PM visit during the tenth
anniversary of normalization of relations is appropriate and
of historic importance for Vietnam in its own right. The
GVN has taken a number of steps during the past year to
overcome hurdles to a visit, including addressing the
problem of designation as a CPC. VFM Bang was "pleased to
report that Vietnam is not under sanction and is working to
be removed from the CPC list." A series of discussions with
Ambassador for Religious Freedom Hanford in Hanoi and
Washington had been productive, he continued. They had
discussed a number of actions taken by the GVN to
demonstrate respect for religion, such as promulgating a
religious ordnance and a decree on Protestantism; laws
against forced renunciation of faith would be strictly
enforced. Bang said that Vietnam has done virtually
everything requested by the United States. The U.S.
Congress needs "binding papers" to this effect, however.
To this end, Bang and Hanford had prepared "letters" saying
that Vietnam had committed to carry out further cooperation
on religious freedom and other issues.

4. (SBU) Turning to WTO, Bang said that Vietnam's accession
campaign would peak in April and May. The GVN has had some
success in advancing negotiations with Japan, South Korea,
Taiwan, India, China and Australia. Now, the United States
is the key country. While in Washington, Bang met with
officials in the State Department, White House and USTR.
All had agreed to work with Vietnam. Vietnam now has to
come up with a very good offer for a bilateral meeting early
in May, as well as the coming multilateral in Geneva, in
order to move the U.S. bilateral market access talks forward
by the end of June. Vietnam realizes it has to improve its
offers on telecommunications, finance, banking and
distribution. The Vice Foreign Minister said he is aware
that USTR will consult with U.S business on all of these
areas. Moreover, Vietnam is committed to passing
legislation required by the WTO. The Chair of the National
Assembly legislative committee has given assurances that
there would be something concrete on paper this year.

5. (SBU) Returning to the PM visit, Bang said that he is
happy that the White House was "receptive" to a visit in
June. Tentatively, the PM would travel to Washington,
Boston, New York and Seattle. Bang is still working out the
details and would probably return to the United States at
the end of May. He noted that a visit would likely produce
a joint statement and agreements on economic cooperation
(note: a framework agreement for U.S. assistance, now in
Washington for final approval), scientific cooperation,
maritime transportation, adoptions and agriculture.
Contracts would be signed; there would be good news for New
York Life, ACE, AIG and Boeing, among others. There would
also be a framework for the long-term relationship in many
areas including human rights, diplomacy and humanitarian
activities. He asked U.S. business to work with the GVN to
make the visit a success.

6. (SBU) The Swiss Ambassador asked about the respective
roles of U.S. veterans groups, the business community,
religious groups and Vietnamese Americans in a PM visit.
Bang replied that veterans groups, especially veterans in
Congress, are very important for Vietnam in establishing and
developing the relationship. The GVN would continue to meet
with them and foster cooperation in accounting for MIAs.
There are extensive efforts to improve relations with
Vietnamese Americans. He mentioned the recent visits of
former South Vietnamese Vice President Nguyen Cao Ky and
Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh and his large group of
followers. The latter visit had been an "extraordinary
event." Further amnesties of prisoners could be expected in
April or May. Overall, the trend in bilateral relations is
up; WTO accession and the Permanent Normal Trade Relations
(PNTR) vote in Congress are the next critical steps. If the
PM visit goes ahead, it also would be a high point in U.S.-
Vietnam relations.

7. (SBU) An NGO representative asked if humanitarian issues,
including the after-effects of the War -- such as Agent
Orange -- would come up. Bang said that there is already
good work on unexploded ordnance being done by U.S. groups
such as the VVAF, as well as other help for the handicapped.
Agent Orange is an important and sensitive issue for
Vietnam. The GVN is committed to taking care of victims.
However, it is not involved in the civil suit in U.S.
courts. Moreover, the GVN does not want Agent Orange issues
to "slow down" development of the bilateral relationship.

APEC and Regional Architecture

8. (SBU) Changing the subject, an AMCHAM staffer asked if
Vietnam would be prepared to host APEC in 2006, given the
enormity of the logistics burden. Bang replied that the GVN
is working hard to prepare for this important task. The
Foreign Ministry is responsible for coordinating this event,
and planning is underway. Based on the success of ASEM, the
outlook is positive. Asked if Vietnam sees any conflict for
the role of APEC posed by the upcoming East Asian Summit,
Bang said no. APEC is an important, well-established
institution that addresses economic subjects and an
expanding list of other specific issues such as counter-
terrorism. The Summit is still a work in progress. APEC is
the "real one." Bang fielded a question on a bilateral
trade agreement under negotiation with China. He said that
this is intended to give China an equal ability to export to
and invest in Vietnam as that enjoyed by the G-7 countries.
Finally, he answered a question about Vietnam's wish for a
more important and active global role in the future and
whether this would force it to "choose sides." Bang said
no. Vietnam would continue to be friendly toward all, hard
as this is at times. The country is ready for a stint in
the UN Security Council in 2008-9 and, at some point, would
even consider participating in international peacekeeping

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