March 15, 2007 / 10:20 PM / 12 years ago

U.S. pushes Vietnam on human rights issues

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (R) greets Pham Gia Khiem, Vietnam's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, at the State Department in Washington March 15, 2007. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pressed Vietnam on Thursday to tackle human rights abuses that U.S. lawmakers say have become more acute in recent months.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said human rights was at the top of the U.S. agenda with Vietnam and Rice discussed these and other issues in her Washington meeting with Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem on Thursday.

Later a State Department official said Rice had raised some specific cases but he declined to provide details.

Among prominent Vietnamese detained this month were lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, founder of the outlawed Committee for Human Rights in Vietnam and lawyer Le Thi Cong Nhan. An outspoken Catholic priest was detained last month.

Rights groups say Vietnam has backtracked on human rights, emboldened by winning membership to the World Trade Organization, removal from the U.S. religious rights blacklist and by hosting an Asia-Pacific summit that Rice and others attended.

The one-party communist state strongly rejects accusations there has been a political crackdown.

Four Republican lawmakers introduced a resolution in Congress this week to coincide with the Vietnamese minister’s visit, demanding that Vietnam “immediately end their ongoing, unbridled human rights abuses and free all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.”

“Enough is enough. It is time for human rights to flourish in Vietnam,” said Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey, in a statement.

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