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Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to be here with you today to discuss how we are handling the issue of human rights with Vietnam.
It goes without saying that few countries have elicited as much passionate debate and soul-searching among the American people as has Vietnam. Thus, it is appropriate that we approach this newest, and promising, chapter in U.S.-Vietnam relations with our commitment to human rights and freedom very much in mind.
The President's decision last July to normalize relations with Vietnam came after long reflection and, above all, tireless effort by those who have sought an accounting of the fate of American prisoners of war and missing-in-action. Indeed, achieving the fullest possible accounting of our American prisoners of war and missing-in-action will remain our highest priority in our relations with Vietnam.
This, in turn, points to a deeper truth about our ties with Vietnam - that we enter the future with enduring memories and feelings. We do not forget for a moment that thousands of Americans gave their lives for the cause of freedom in Southeast Asia. So the human rights concerns that attend our foreign policy today have special resonance when dealing with Vietnam. This is why our human rights dialogue with Vietnam preceded normalization and why the President is committed to pursuing an improvement in Vietnam's human rights practices.
I can assure you that human rights is very much on our minds as we broaden bilateral ties with Vietnam. One indication of this fact is that since assuming the position of Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for human rights a month ago, I have devoted more time to Vietnam than to any other subject.
Our dialogue with Vietnam on human rights issues dates to February 1994, when the President first initiated a dialogue with the Vietnamese in order to formally and systematically address our human rights concerns. Our bureau was assigned …