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Embassy Row: ‘Appalling’ ambassador
Question of the Day
The co-chairman of a congressional human rights panel is calling on President Obama to fire the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, accusing the career diplomat of failing to promote democracy and ignoring the plight of a Vietnamese-American arrested in Ho Chi Minh City.
Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, denounced Ambassador David Shear in a letter to the White House a day before Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton held talks in Hanoi on Tuesday.
Mr. Wolf also complained that Mr. Shear's attitude is "symptomatic" of the Obama administration's "sidelining of serious human rights issues in Vietnam."
"America must be a voice for the voiceless. The U.S. Embassy must be an island of freedom, headed by a bold American ambassador. Ambassador Shear is not that man," said Mr. Wolf, co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
Mr. Wolf accused Mr. Shear of deceiving him after he had phoned the ambassador to ask that leading Vietnamese human rights advocates be invited to a Fourth of July celebration at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi.
"I stressed that he should fling open the doors of the embassy and invite Buddhist monks and nuns, Catholic priests and Protestant pastors, Internet bloggers and democracy activists," Mr. Wolf said in his letter.
Mr. Shear responded that he would honor Mr. Wolf's request, the congressman said. However, Mr. Wolf said he later learned that the ambassador had generally ignored him. In a second phone call to the Hanoi embassy, Mr. Wolf said the ambassador invited only a "few civil society activists." He said Mr. Shear claimed he had to maintain a "balance" with the communist authorities in Vietnam.
"His response was appalling," Mr. Wolf said, adding that the ambassador also refused to send him a copy of the guest list.
Mr. Wolf also accused Mr. Shear of failing to seek the release of Nguyen Quoc Quan, a Vietnamese-born, naturalized U.S. citizen who escaped from Vietnam in 1981.
Vietnamese police arrested Mr. Quan on April 17, after he arrived in Ho Chi Minh City.
The State Department is defending Mr. Shear against Mr. Wolf's charges.
"Since arriving in Hanoi in August, Ambassador Shear has put human rights at the center of our bilateral engagement with Vietnam. At every meeting with senior Vietnamese officials he has raised human rights issues," spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday.
In his letter, Mr. Wolf complained that the ambassador's lack of attention to human rights in Vietnam reflects a general attitude of the Obama administration.
"Sadly, his sidelining of serious human rights issues in Vietnam is symptomatic of this administration's overall approach to human rights and religious freedom," Mr. Wolf said. "Time and again, these issues are put on the back burner to the detriment of freedom-loving people the world over."
At a news conference in Hanoi on Tuesday, Mrs. Clinton thanked Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh for his "warm welcome" and told reporters that they talked about trade, the economy, unexploded weapons left over from the Vietnam War and U.S. soldiers still listed as missing in action.
In the 11th paragraph of a 12 paragraph statement, Mrs. Clinton said she also "raised concerns about human rights."
WORRIED ABOUT ASYLUM
Ecuador's ambassador in Washington is worried that her country's strained relations with the United States could worsen if her South American nation grants political asylum to the man who released thousands of classified U.S. diplomatic cables.
Ambassador Nathalie Cely told a radio station in the capital, Quito, that some U.S. groups already are trying to "disparage [Ecuador] in the eyes of U.S. business leaders and policymakers" over its support of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks who fled to the Ecuadorean Embassy in London last month to avoid extradition to Sweden on sex-abuse charges.
"Giving asylum to Assange would be used as ammunition to attack the country," she said in an interview Monday with Radio Majestad.
Ecuador's leftist president, Rafael Correa, has been a frequent critic of the U.S. and has allied with anti-American leaders such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.
• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
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About the Author
James Morrison joined the The Washington Times in 1983 as a local reporter covering Alexandria, Va. A year later, he was assigned to open a Times bureau in Canada. From 1987 to 1989, Mr. Morrison was The Washington Times reporter in London, covering Britain, Western Europe and NATO issues. After returning to Washington, he served as an assistant foreign editor ...
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