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In Vietnam, Kerry lauds peace with foes, pushes human rights

john kerry

Hanoi: US Secretary of State John Kerry today extolled the virtues of reconciling with former enemies as he marked the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the US and Vietnam.

Wrapping up a five-nation tour of the Middle East and Southeast Asia that has been dogged by domestic US debate over the Iran nuclear deal, Kerry said the Vietnam War was the result of a “most profound failure of diplomatic insight and political vision.” And, he lamented that current discussions have often focused on the alleged necessity of conflict.

“Standing here today, I’m reminded of conversations I’ve had recently with people who talk almost casually about the prospect of war with one country or another. And I’m tempted to say: ‘You don’t have the first idea of what you’re talking about’,” Kerry told an audience of civic and business leaders in a speech at a Hanoi hotel.

“For sure, there are times when one may have no choice but to go to war, but it is never something to rush to or accept without exploring every other available option,” he said. “The war that took place here half a century ago divided each of our countries and stemmed from the most profound failure of diplomatic insight and political vision.”

The Vietnam War veteran did not mention Iran or the nuclear deal but he made clear that the American-Vietnamese experience of the past 60 years could serve as a model for others.

“Vietnam and our shared journey from conflict to friendship crosses my mind frequently as I grapple with complex challenges we face today,” he said.

“That we are standing here today celebrating 20 years of normalised relations is proof that we are not doomed merely to repeat the mistakes we have made in the past. We have the ability to overcome great bitterness and to substitute trust for suspicion and replace enmity with respect.”

“The United States and Vietnam have again proven that former adversaries really can become partners, even in the complex world we face today. And as much as that achievement matters to us, it is also a profound and timely lesson to the rest of the world,” Kerry said.

Despite the resumption of ties and a surge in US-Vietnam trade, education and cultural exchanges over the past two decades, the US remains concerned about Vietnam’s human rights record. Kerry said Vietnam would not reach its full potential nor enjoy the fullest partnership possible with the United States unless it improves rights conditions.

“The United States recognises that only the Vietnamese people can determine their political system and we speak with some humility on these matters, because as you can read and see, we are working hard to perfect our own system,” he said.

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