WASHINGTON The State Department's most senior human rights diplomat, Tom Malinowski, will visit Vietnam next week to urge it to make more progress on human rights, the department said on Friday.
Meetings by Malinowski, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, on May 9 and 10 will pave the way for a visit to Vietnam by President Barack Obama later this month, the third U.S. president to travel to the southeast Asian nation since Bill Clinton in 2000.
"Among other things, he will urge Vietnam to release political prisoners without condition and encourage further reforms that will help to make Vietnam's laws consistent with its international human rights obligations," the State Department said in announcing Malinowski's visit.
The U.S. eased an arms embargo against its former enemy in 2014 amid a warming of relations saying human rights conditions had improved somewhat. But concerns remain over the communist government's heavy-handedness toward political opponents and treatment of workers.
The country has jailed dissidents, bloggers and religious leaders in recent years, holding them for long periods without access to family or legal counsel and often subject to torture or other mistreatment, according to Human Rights Watch.
Relations, however, have improved over maritime security and Vietnam is a member of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact that includes countries such as Japan and Australia.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by James Dalgleish)