- The Washington Times - Friday, March 2, 2001

Lobbying for Vietnam

The U.S. ambassador to Vietnam plans to lobby Congress for passage of a new trade bill with the communist nation, knowing that Vietnam's human rights record could pose a problem.

Ambassador Douglas "Pete" Peterson is due in Washington Monday to meet newly elected members of Congress to promote the expected benefits of the trade pact for both countries.

However, he knows he will have difficulty persuading some lawmakers who object to rewarding Vietnam by lifting most import tariffs while Vietnam has one of the worst human rights records in Southeast Asia.

"We are working with business groups in the U.S. to help them help us educate some of the new members [of Congress] and establish a coalition on [Capitol] Hill to prepare for the ratification of the bilateral trade agreement," said a U.S. Embassy official who briefed reporters in Hanoi yesterday about Mr. Peterson's trip.

But "this process is going to be more difficult than originally anticipated."

He said the Vietnamese government has made Mr. Peterson's task more difficult with the recent crackdown on protests against land confiscations in the mainly Christian central highlands.

"This is going to be a very difficult issue to deal with," the official said, noting the government's actions raises questions about religious freedom, official corruption and arbitrary land grabs.

"There are people who have never supported the agreement with Vietnam who will seize on the highlands issue and make allegations which could be accurate, partially accurate or inaccurate and none of us can tell if they are right or wrong," he said.

Mr. Peterson, who was appointed by President Clinton and asked to stay on by President Bush, shares the same views of the trade pact as Le Van Bang, the Vietnamese ambassador to the United States.

Embassy Row yesterday reported on an interview Mr. Le gave with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He said the trade pact would benefit both countries.

The chamber also pledged it will help lobby for the trade deal.

Turkish visit

Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem is due to visit Washington this month for talks with Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The two men met this week at the NATO summit in Belgium, where Mr. Powell discussed the sanctions against Iraq.

"He is coming to Washington on March 30, so they will have a chance to talk more," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Wednesday.

Mr. Boucher said Mr. Powell and Mr. Cem did not discuss any specific steps to deal with Turkey's financial crisis.

"We're following the situation there closely, and the people from our Treasury Department and the multilateral banks are working closely with them," Mr. Boucher said.

Arrivederci, not addio

He called Bill Clinton "one of the greatest American presidents" and expressed his respect for Pope John Paul II.

All in all, Thomas Foglietta said yesterday, the past 3 and 1/2 years in Rome as U.S. ambassador to Italy were the "best years" of his life.

Mr. Foglietta said farewell to reporters as he boarded a plane at Rome's Fiumicino airport.

"This is no 'addio', but rather an 'arrivederci,' " he said, implying that he will return to Italy as a private citizen.

Mr. Foglietta, a descendant of southern Italian immigrants, said he wants to help establish high-tech companies in the economically depressed south, where the unemployment rate is between 20 and 25 percent. He also promised to promote direct flights between the United States and southern Italy.

The ambassador, a Roman Catholic who speaks Italian, also expressed his respect for the pope and his "great joy" at the beatification of Pope John XXIII last year.

He said his most difficult moment as ambassador was dealing with the accident in 1998 caused by a low-flying U.S. jet that slashed the cable of a ski lift in the Italian Alps and killed 20 persons.

Mr. Foglietta is a former congressman from Pennsylvania who served 17 years in the House before Mr. Clinton chose him for the Rome posting.

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