|05HANOI284||2005-02-02 09:02:00||UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY||Embassy Hanoi|
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
1. (SBU) Summary: During a wide-ranging discussion February
1, the Ambassador previewed for Vice Foreign Minister Le Van
Bang a proposed "work plan" to advance our religious freedom
goals and ultimately remove Vietnam from the religious
freedom Country of Particular Concern list. VFM Bang said
that, in addition to the proposed June 20-30 visit to the
United States of Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, President
Tran Duc Luong and National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Van An
may also visit the United States to attend separate events
in NYC in the September-October timeframe. VFM Bang also
said that a repeat of last year's Easter disturbances in the
Central Highlands this year could cause the Prime Minister's
visit to be cancelled and urged the United States not to
allow "issues" to get in the way of advancing the bilateral
relationship. VFM Bang pressed the United States to
complete its WTO negotiations with Vietnam before the PM's
visit and before Vietnam completes its negotiations with
China. In addition, the Ambassador and VFM Bang discussed
the Central Highlands, "Government of Free Vietnam" leader
Nguyen Huu Chanh, Amcit detainee Bao Phat Thang, IMET and
Article 98 agreements, the new Embassy compound land issue
and U.S. HIV/AIDS assistance for Vietnam. End Summary.
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM WORKPLAN PREVIEWED
2. (SBU) Vice Foreign Minister Le Van Bang invited the
Ambassador, Pol/C and Poloff to lunch February 1 to
celebrate the Lunar New Year and discuss several issues of
mutual interest. Assistant Foreign Minister and Director
General of the Americas Department Nguyen Duc Hung and
United States Affairs Section Chief Nguyen Hoanh Nam
accompanied VFM Bang. The Ambassador told VFM Bang that the
United States appreciates the inclusion of five individuals
of concern and two American citizens in the New Year's
Amnesty announced January 31 (Ref A) and noted that there
are other deserving individuals who should be considered for
release as early as possible. VFM Bang replied that he had
done his best to secure release for prisoners of concern to
the United States, as he had promised Ambassador-at-Large
for Religious Freedom Hanford and DRL Deputy Assistant
Secretary Elizabeth Dugan. VFM Bang added that Ambassador
Hanford had also asked him to assist with the case of
imprisoned Mennonite Le Thi Hong Lien. The Ambassador
underlined that Lien's case is humanitarian in nature and
that she should be receiving mental health treatment rather
than time in prison. To that end, the Ambassador passed VFM
Bang a nonpaper with information about Lien's case and a
request for her early release on humanitarian grounds.
3. (SBU) The Ambassador noted that the deadline for action
in response to Vietnam's designation as a Country of
Particular Concern (CPC) is in early March. However, the
recent prisoner releases raise the possibility that the USG
could extend that deadline 90 days while Vietnam and the
United States work out the details of a work plan that would
result, ultimately, in the lifting of Vietnam's CPC
designation. NSC Senior Director for Asia Michael Green
will discuss this proposal in greater detail during his
February 4 discussions. In broad terms, however, the USG's
thinking is that, during this 90-day period, the USG and the
GVN would discuss the terms of this work plan and, for
clarity's sake, exchange letters or notes to confirm the
elements of the agreed plan. The USG recognizes that
certain actions, such as church openings, cannot take place
overnight, so implementation of the plan would then take
place over the course of a year. In truth, many of the
elements of a work plan are actions that the GVN has already
said it would undertake, the Ambassador noted, so agreeing
to a work plan should not be too difficult for Vietnam.
4. (SBU) VFM Bang agreed that the United States would have
to proceed "step by step" and could not "go directly to
lifting CPC," but instead "would set that as a goal." VFM
Bang enumerated two significant steps Vietnam has already
taken: the prisoner release and the opening of new
churches. The MFA has a list of the new churches and
dioceses opened and recognized in the Central Highlands and
elsewhere, he said. He promised to provide it to the
Embassy "as soon as possible." In addition to these two
steps, VFM Bang continued, the GVN would soon issue its
Religious Ordinance implementation guidelines, in which the
GVN will "forbid anyone to force another person to renounce
their beliefs, or to force someone to follow a belief or
religion." The Ambassador said that these are good steps,
and recommended that they be supplemented with other
gestures, such as further prisoner releases. "This is quite
difficult in our system," VFM Bang chuckled. "I hope you
know I could lose my head if nothing happens on your side."
5. (SBU) "You should know we have no restrictions on
religious freedom in Vietnam now," VFM Bang continued.
"Things are much better than they were ten years ago.
Religion is flourishing and there are Catholic and Buddhist
universities." VFM Bang contrasted Vietnam's religious
situation with that of the United States, noting that
churches in the United States play a civic role by
administering marriages and funerals and acting as a social
public gathering place and, occasionally, as a focal point
for social activism. Churches do not have the same function
in Vietnam, VFM Bang said. "We are improving," he added.
"For example, Thich Nhat Hanh is here with 200 of his
followers from abroad, teaching his meditation. It is an
extraordinarily positive phenomenon." (Note: Thich Nhat
Hanh is a Buddhist monk who has been in exile in France
since 1966. He was permitted to return to Vietnam for the
first time in January 2005. There has been heavy state-run
media coverage of his return. End note.)
6. (SBU) The Ambassador agreed with VFM Bang that "the scope
of religious activity in Vietnam is as great as it has ever
been," but noted that not everyone enjoys religious freedom.
For example, he said, Buddhist monks Thich Quang Do and
Thich Huyen Quang remain under "pagoda arrest" and are not
allowed to travel to see each other. Their continued
restrictions hurt Vietnam's reputation unnecessarily because
the two old monks are no threat to the regime, the
Ambassador added. VFM Bang said he has asked "someone"
about the possibility of relaxing the restrictions on the
monks and was told "it might take some time."
HIGH LEVEL EXCHANGES AND VISITS
7. (SBU) To commemorate the tenth anniversary this year of
the normalization of bilateral relations, a number of high-
level exchanges and visits are planned, VFM Bang said. In
addition to the visit of NSC Senior Director Green, VFM Bang
said he will go to Texas and Washington, D.C., in March.
Deputy Prime Minister Vu Khoan may visit Washington in May
to finalize the Prime Minister's visit arrangements. VFM
Bang reiterated the GVN's request for a visit by Prime
Minister Phan Van Khai June 20-30, 2005, with stops in New
York, Seattle and Washington, D.C. PM Khai would like to
visit the United Nations while in NYC and visit Boeing and
the new governor of Washington State while in Seattle, he
8. (SBU) Continuing, VFM Bang said that, in September,
National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Van An plans to visit New
York City to attend the second World Conference of Speakers
of Parliament at the International Parliamentary Union
meeting (September 7-9). He may also want to "pass by"
Washington for a "private visit," similar to the trip
current Communist Party General Secretary Nong Duc Manh made
to Washington when he was the Chairman of the National
Assembly. Chairman An would have "many" parliamentarians
with him, VFM Bang said. State President Tran Duc Luong may
also visit New York City in October to attend the UN
Millennium Review meeting. The Ambassador "welcomed" the
possibility and said it is important for legislators from
both sides to visit regularly. Returning to the proposed
visit by Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, the Ambassador
stressed that both sides need to create the "right
atmosphere" for the visit, and, in this respect, Senior
Director Green's upcoming visit is very important.
Nguyen Huu Chanh
9. (SBU) Turning to an issue raised by AFM Hung during a
meeting with the Ambassador January 28 (Ref B), the
Ambassador said that Nguyen Huu Chanh -- the "leader" of the
"Government of Free Vietnam" (GFVN) -- is the subject of an
organized crime, violent crime and terrorism investigation
in the United States. Any information the GVN has on
Chanh's alleged illegal activities might be useful, the
Ambassador added. Responding to AFM Hung's question about
Chanh's reported plans to open a GFVN office in Washington,
D.C. -- in front of which would fly the flag of the old
South Vietnam -- the Ambassador said that we have to keep
things in perspective: the GFVN's convention in early in
January in Anaheim, about which Vietnam had expressed grave
concern, had been a "non-event." Furthermore, it is not
illegal to open an office. VFM Bang said that, should Chanh
"be allowed" to open an office, "it would be a disaster."
That said, he continued, "it may be better to ignore Chanh
than to draw attention to him."
CENTRAL HIGHLANDS RECOVERY OPERATIONS
10. (SBU) The Ambassador expressed his concern about U.S.
MIA investigation and recovery teams' lack of access to the
Central Highlands provinces of Kon Tum, Gia Lai, Dak Nong
and Dak Lak, an issue he raised with Deputy Prime Minister
Nguyen Tan Dzung the day before (Ref C). There is also the
question of whether a U.S.-contracted medevac helicopter
will be allowed to transport injured American and Vietnamese
personnel from recovery sites. That Vietnam had recently
suffered the loss of 16 military personnel in a helicopter
crash should bring home that accidents do happen and we need
to be prepared to respond quickly to minimize injuries and
loss of life, the Ambassador said.
11. (SBU) Another issue in front of us that should be easy
to resolve is that of an Article 98 Nonsurrender Agreement,
the Ambassador continued. VFM Bang said that, "in reality
and legally," Vietnam agrees with the United States.
Vietnam is not a Treaty of Rome signatory and, in practice,
would "never send your people" to the International Criminal
Court. "We just need to come up with the right language,"
the Vice Foreign Minister said. The Europeans are "so loud"
on this issue. "How can Vietnam please everyone?" he asked.
Nearly 100 countries have signed Article 98 agreements, the
Ambassador noted. Our understanding is that the issue for
Vietnam is one of timing, notably that Vietnam wants to hold
off signing an Article 98 agreement until after it accedes
to the WTO. This could be more than a year away, and
Vietnam's reaching an Article 98 agreement with the United
States -- the sooner, the better -- would be well received
in Washington, the Ambassador stressed.
WTO and Tricore
12. (SBU) On WTO accession, VFM Le Van Bang said that the
United States and China are "competing for Vietnam's favor"
and added that Vietnam "hopes earnestly" that U.S.-Vietnam
bilateral negotiations can be completed first. Vietnam's
preference is to complete its talks with the U.S. by May in
time for the Prime Minister's visit. Completing work on a
bilateral agreement by May is possible but will not be easy,
the Ambassador responded. On the other hand, we are
increasingly concerned that the National Assembly -- which
will only have two one-month sessions between now and the
end of the year -- may not be able to pass all the necessary
legislation in time. VFM Bang responded that, if the
National Assembly "cannot go issue by issue," then perhaps
it can pass an "umbrella law to supersede existing
legislation." The Ambassador urged that the GVN seriously
pursue this option. On Tricore matter -- which he also
raised with DPM Dzung -- the Ambassador said that this is an
issue that will not go away and that the GVN has to deal
with this matter in earnest.
OVERFLIGHT CLEARANCES, IMET
13. (SBU) The Ambassador thanked the GVN for making the
"right decision" by granting blanket overflight clearance to
U.S. military planes involved in the tsunami relief effort.
VFM Bang said that he had spoken about this issue with
Lieutenant General Nguyen Duc Soat, Deputy Chair of the
General Staff, with whom he had traveled to Jakarta for the
tsunami summit, and LTG Soat had agreed that "Vietnam will
do its part." In response to the Ambassador's raising the
need for International Military Education and Training
(IMET) agreement between Vietnam and the United States, VFM
Bang said that, while "Vietnam's military could really use
the English language training -- the Ministry of National
Defense is often unable to send people to international
conferences and other events because of language
deficiencies -- the human rights vetting clause is a deal-
breaker." This should not be a problem for Vietnam, the
Ambassador stressed. Human rights vetting is a worldwide
requirement, and Vietnam has already signed other agreements
that have human rights clauses, namely the bilateral
counternarcotics agreement and the agreement to send
officials to training courses at the International Law
Enforcement Academy in Bangkok, the Ambassador noted.
15. (SBU) The Ambassador raised the case of Amcit Bao Phat
Tang's detention. The problem is not one of consular access
-- our consular officials have been able to see Tang -- but
rather, the fact that none of his family members nor his
attorney has been able to see him. We understand that,
under Vietnamese law, a suspect is not allowed to see family
members or others during the pre-trial investigation period,
which is normally four months. However, in this case,
because it involves Vietnam's recent textile quota scandal,
the investigative period apparently may stretch to as long
as one year, which would be far too long to not allow Tang
to see his family or attorney. The Ambassador urged the GVN
to consider the possibility of a face-to-face visit. AFM
Hung explained that, because the quota scandal continues to
grow, the length of time required to investigate Tang and
others also continues to lengthen.
"EASTER DISTURBANCE IN HIGHLANDS COULD CANCEL PM'S VISIT"
16. (SBU) Returning to the subject of the Prime Minister's
proposed visit, the Vice Foreign Minister said he is
"thinking deeply" and "worried" about the visit's
atmosphere. From now to the visit, he urged the USG to work
with the GVN to "do the utmost" to "create the right
atmosphere." "There will be issues between our two
countries," but we should not let them "slow down our
efforts," VFM Bang added. "A repeat of last year's Easter
disturbances in the Central Highlands would surely cause the
Prime Minister's visit to be cancelled," he predicted. VFM
Bang explained that he is often placed in a precarious
position "lobbying for the United States," because there are
some in the GVN who believe that groups in the United States
with ties to separatist elements in the Central Highlands
are under USG control.
17. (SBU) The Vice Foreign Minister noted that, during his
January 21 meeting with former Ambassadors Mort Abramowitz
and Stephen Bosworth, they had agreed on many things, such
as ongoing strategic developments in Asia and the role of
the United States in Asia in general and Southeast Asia in
particular. The Ambassador noted that it is time for the
United States and Vietnam to begin a strategic dialogue at a
sufficiently high level to discuss regional and global
issues of mutual interest.
18. (SBU) The Ambassador applauded the recent signing of a
Memorandum of Understanding among Vietnam, Cambodia and the
UNHCR on the situation of the 750 Vietnamese Montagnards in
Cambodia (Ref D), noting that this is an important step
forward. The United States and others will watch closely to
see how the MOU is implemented. On the subject of
disturbances in the Central Highlands, the Ambassador said
that no one has any interest in seeing a repeat of the April
2004 incident. For its part, the United States would try to
get word to organizations in the United States with ties to
the Montagnards that inciting disturbances benefits no one.
Furthermore, the United States would, to the extent
possible, try to share relevant information with the GVN,
the Ambassador said.
19. (SBU) Christmas services in the Central Highlands appear
to have taken place without incident, the only exception
being Dak Lak Province (Ref E), the Ambassador continued.
Dak Lak Province has come to our attention in another
matter: we have had problems in this province with
Montagnard families' not being able to apply for passports
to begin the process of joining their relatives in the
United States (under the "Visas-93" program). It appears
that the basic problem is with local authorities in Dak Lak,
the Ambassador observed. The Vice Foreign Minister noted
that he is close to the Chairman of the Dak Lak People's
Committee (they are both from Ninh Binh Province) and
pledged to get in touch with him about these issues.
FINAL ISSUES: NEW EMBASSY COMPOUND, HIV/AIDS
20. (SBU) Thanking the Vice Foreign Minister for the MFA's
help with the ongoing new Embassy compound land issue, the
Ambassador expressed his hope that the upcoming talks
between Vietnam and Russia would yield an agreement to allow
Vietnam and the United States to seal their own deal.
Ideally, we would have an agreement in place by the time the
Prime Minister visits Washington, the Ambassador said.
21. (SBU) VFM Bang observed that international NGO project
expenditures rose 40 percent in 2004, thanks in large part
to U.S. funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and care projects.
This increase in funding was an important gesture and sent a
signal to others to step up their own contributions. The
Ambassador stressed that how well U.S. HIV/AIDS monies are
spent in 2005 will guide how much assistance is available in
2006. Additionally, there are concerns about how Vietnam's
Ministry of Health will handle the flood of new assistance.
VFM Bang responded that Brazil has offered to assist Vietnam
in its planning and other HIV/AIDS-related efforts. Brazil
has a "good story" to share regarding the distribution of
medicines and other programs, he concluded.