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Obama has 'candid' human rights talk with Vietnam leader

12:43 PM, Jul 25, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON -- President Obama said Thursday that he and his counterpart from Vietnam are committed to completing a regional trade agreement by the end of the year, but "differences" remain over human rights in the Southeast Asia nation.

Obama said he and President Truong Tan Sang had a "candid conversation" about human rights, including "the progress Vietnam is making and the challenges that remain."

Said Sang on the issue: "We still have differences."

For his part, Sang said he invited Obama to visit Vietnam, and the U.S. president said he would try his best to do so before the end of his term.

Prior to the White House meeting, Sang told the Associated Press that American concerns over the communist nation's arrests of dissidents and media censorship shouldn't hinder closer military and economic ties.

In the Oval Office, Sang told reporters through an interpreter: "We will strengthen high-level exchanges between the two countries."

Obama said he wants a partnership with Vietnam that includes increased trade, military-to-military cooperation, and education and scientific exchanges.

The Obama-Sang meeting stirred memories of the Vietnam War that so divided American society during the 1960s and '70s.

Sang gave Obama a copy of a letter that Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh sent to then-President Harry Truman in 1946, asking for American assistance.

Obama said the U.S. and Vietnam are still working on "war legacy issues," including the prospect of missing Americans and health problems of Vietnamese people stemming from American use of jungle defoliants.

The presence of the Vietnam president drew hundreds of protesters to Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House.

The chanting, bullhorn-wielding, sign-holding protesters criticized Vietnam's poor human rights record. Said one sign: "Free All Prisoners of Conscience Now."

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