Vietnam wants the U.S. to lift fully an embargo on arms sales that was eased last year, but Washington is calling for more progress by the communist-governed nation on improving human rights, their respective ambassadors said Tuesday.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the resumption of diplomatic relations between the former enemies. Vietnam says an end to the embargo, which was partially lifted last October to help improve Vietnam's maritime security, would show relations are fully normalized.
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"It has political symbolism," Ambassador Pham Quang Vinh told the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.
The U.S. and Vietnam have deepened ties as they find common cause in countering a rising China. Vietnam is also among 12 nations negotiating a U.S.-backed trans-Pacific trade pact that Washington wants to finalize this year to help boost exports to Asia.
The U.S., however, has voiced concern about Russia refueling military planes at the Vietnamese base at Cam Ranh Bay. U.S. Ambassador Ted Osius blamed Russia for using its arrangement with Vietnam for "provocative" actions that could raise regional tensions.
Vinh said Vietnam has a "clear understanding" with the U.S. that it won't let its airports and other facilities to be used in a way harmful to third countries. He did not elaborate.
Osius said the most difficult aspect of the U.S.-Vietnam relationship remains human rights. He said there is increasing space for religious and political expression in Vietnam but that more progress is needed for the relationship to reach its fullest potential.
He urged a moratorium on arrests under provisions of Vietnamese law that he said are currently being revised to make them consistent with its constitution. The provisions cover areas such as Internet freedom and freedom of speech and assembly, he said.
Despite periodic releases of detainees, Human Rights Watch says there continues to be a "revolving door of political prisoners" in Vietnam with at least 29 prosecutions in 2014.
Vinh was stony-faced as one high-profile dissident, Cu Huy Ha Vu, who was released last April, criticized the government's record on human rights at Tuesday's event.
The ambassador said that everyone is equal under the law in Vietnam and there are no prisoners of conscience.