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Cablegate: Ambassador Discusses Religious Freedom, Peace Corps, Unga

DE RUEHHI #2051/01 2231211
P 111211Z AUG 06





E.O. 12958: N/A


REF: STATE 129973


1. (SBU) On August 10, the Ambassador discussed the upcoming visit
of United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious
Freedom John Hanford with Acting Director General Pham Van Que of
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Americas Department.
Regarding USG concerns about the slow pace of registration of
Protestants in the north and other issues, the Acting DG asserted
that the USG should take a broader view of religious freedom
developments in Vietnam and not focus on "narrow problems" when
making its upcoming CPC decision. The Ambassador also encouraged
the MFA to sign a country agreement regarding the establishment of a
Peace Corps program in Vietnam and to allow the initial program to
consist of 30 volunteers rather than the GVN's desired ten.

2. (SBU) On other issues, Que noted that the Foreign Minister is
still considering attending the UN General Assembly in September
and reiterated the Minister's request to meet with the Secretary in
the event he does attend. Que expressed the GVN's concern about
California's recent decision to honor the flag of South Vietnam.
Finally, Que urged the USG to take seriously the case of Nguyen Huu
Chanh, "as he is a terrorist." End Summary.

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3. (SBU) On August 10, the Ambassador met with Pham Van Que, Acting
Director General of the MFA's Americas Department, to discuss the
August 14-18 visit to Vietnam of United States Ambassador-at-Large
for International Religious Freedom John Hanford. Drawing from
points in reftel, the Ambassador stated that the USG is impressed
with the GVN's progress to date on religious freedom, but noted four
areas of continuing concern: 1) slow progress in the registration
of Protestant groups in northern Vietnam and the Northwest
Highlands; 2) inconsistent implementation of the GVN's new framework
on religion; 3) religious dissident Ma Van bay's continued
incarceration; and, 4) the GVN's failure to present a
province-by-province breakdown of religious freedom developments in
Vietnam as promised during the February Human Rights Dialogue.
Ambassador Hanford has to make a recommendation on Vietnam's Country
of Particular Concern (CPC) status by mid-September, the Ambassador
continued. During his visit, Ambassador Hanford plans to ask the
GVN for clear indications of future religious freedom actions, the
Ambassador added.

4. (SBU) Que stated that the MFA will check on the status of Ma Van
Bay, but claimed that he does not know any details about the case.
Que reported that the GVN's Committee on Religious Afairs is
currently working on the province-by-province breakdown of religious
freedom developments s requested, "but it may be difficult to
producethis report that quickly." "Ambassador Hanford shuld take
a broader view of religious freedom devlopments in Vietnam," and
not focus on narrow problems, Que added. "Our policy is good, and
we hae worked hard to implement it," Que stressed, notig that, in
some cases, "religion is not the reason why some people are

Peace Corps

5. (SBU) Turning to the issue of establishing a Peace Corps program
in Vietnam, the Ambassador noted that only two issues remain
unresolved before a deal can be finalized.
The Peace Corps must sign a country agreement with an appropriate
GVN partner. The Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) has
proposed that the program begin without an agreement and that it be
sole counterpart of the Peace Corps. Neither is practical; the
Peace Corps cannot operae without a country agreement; and,
eventually we anticipate that the Peace Corps will work in Vietnm
in areas other than education. Therefore, theagreement should be
with the MFA or the Office o the Government -- bodies which are
more generalin scope, the Ambassador said. In addition, the
initial number of volunteers the GVN is prepared toaccept has
proven problematic. Because of the aministrative and logistic
investment required --normally USD one million dollars -- the
smallestPeace Corps programs begin with 30 volunteers. However,
the GVN will only agree to an initial ten volunteers who would be
limited to service in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). It is hard
and perhaps impossible to justify opening a program with just ten
volunteers, the Ambassador noted. We know that the universities and
technical schools in Hanoi and HCMC would welcome additional
volunteers," he added.

6. (SBU) Que suggested that the Peace Corps send just ten volunteers
to Vietnam and pay for ten Vietnamese to travel to the United
States, but the Ambassador explained that such an exchange would not
be within the scope of Peace Corps activities. Que responded that a
country agreement with the MFA would be "too official." He said

HANOI 00002051 002 OF 002

that an agreement with the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organizations
(VUFO) would be more appropriate for an NGO organization. The MFA
is trying to open up Vietnam to the Peace Corps, he continued, and
the GVN has already actively debated the Peace Corps program's size
and the appropriate partner organization. "You understand why it is
difficult," Que said. The Ambassador replied that the Peace corps
is not an NGO, it is a Presidential program, and it would be
difficult for us to justify such a small start. He urged Que to
find a way to revisit the size issue.

7. (SBU) Que noted that the PRC limited the initial Peace Corps
program in China. The Ambassador rejoined that China's limitations
were purely geographical and pledged to check at what level the PRC
signed a country agreement with the Peace Corps. Que also asked for
a copy of a draft country agreement so that the MFA can "understand
the issue better." The Ambassador promised that the Embassy will
send a draft agreement to the MFA.


8. (SBU) Que told the Ambassador that Deputy Prime Minister/Foreign
Minister Pham Gia Khiem is still considering attending the UN
General Assembly meeting in New York in September. If he attends
the session, Khiem would like to meet with the Secretary, Que added.
The Ambassador promised to convey this request to the Department,
but noted that there would be many demands on the Secretary's time
during that period. He also reminded Que that DPM Khiem and the
Secretary had a productive meeting in Kuala Lumpur two weeks ago.


The Flag of South Vietnam

9. (SBU) Que also noted that a recent issue that the GVN is
concerned about is the decision of Governor Schwarzenegger to
recognize by gubernatorial order the flag of the Republic of
Vietnam. "This is not good news in Vietnam," he lamented. He also
noted that a number of Vietnamese-Americans are pushing for a
similar resolution in the California legislature. The Ambassador
noted that the Department is actively considering our response to
the issue, but noted that all Americans have the right to express
their opinions.

Nguyen Huu Chanh

9. (SBU) Que also raised the GVN's displeasure over Nguyen Huu
Chanh's recent return to California from South Korea. In the GVN's
opinion, Chanh is a terrorist. "We often place individuals on to
our blacklist when you give us derogatory information about their
activities, so you should take our request about Chanh seriously,"
he urged. In addition, Que expressed concern about the case against
Ly Tong in Thailand. Tong is awaiting possible extradition to
Vietnam, and the GVN hopes that the United States will not intervene
in this matter, Que said. The Ambassador noted that the latter case
is purely a matter between the Royal Thai Government and the GVN,
adding that, to his knowledge, the USG has no plans to intervene in
this case. He also promised to convey the GVN authorities' views on
Chanh to the concerned parties in the United States.


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