Obama under fire for meeting with Vietnam Communist party leader

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President Obama is coming under criticism for meeting this week with the leader of the Vietnamese Communist Party, despite the nation’s continued crackdown on human rights. 

Democrats and Republican lawmakers alike have slammed the White House’s historic meeting on Tuesday and urged the Obama administration to focus more on the Asian nation’s human rights record.

“I am disappointed that the administration has chosen to host Nguyễn Phú Trọng, the General Secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party,” Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) said in a statement on Wednesday. “As an advocate for human rights in Vietnam I cannot ignore the dismal state of freedom of the press and freedom of speech.”

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Earlier in the week, Sanchez and eight other lawmakers from both sides of the aisle told Obama in a letter that the “authoritarian one-party system” over which Trọng presides "is the root cause of the deplorable human rights situation in Vietnam.” 

“As the list of detained Vietnamese bloggers and prisoners of conscience gets longer and longer, it is more important than ever that the United States sends a clear message to the Hanoi authorities that respect for human rights is essential for a closer economic and security relationship,” they added.

Obama’s meeting with Trọng — during which the president promised to visit Vietnam “some time in the future” — was laden with symbolism for the two countries, which were embroiled in a bitter war a generation ago. Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Vietnam were normalized just 20 years ago. 

However, Vietnam's most recent elections “were neither free nor fair,” the State Department said in a recent report on international human rights.

Vietnamese citizens are subjected to “severe government restrictions” on their political rights, as well as “arbitrary arrest and detention for political activities” and mistreatment by police that includes the use of lethal force and “austere prison conditions.”

After the White House meeting on Tuesday, Obama said he and Trọng “discussed candidly some of our differences around issues of human rights.”

However, the “diplomatic dialogue and practical steps that we are taking together will benefit both countries,” Obama added.