- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2001

A top Senate Republican yesterday reversed course and urged the Bush administration to submit a historic trade pact with Vietnam for approval by the end of the month.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and Finance Committee chairman, told President Bush in a letter that he should heed the groundswell of support for the agreement.
"I have heard from many of my colleagues on the importance of this agreement," Mr. Grassley wrote. "I believe a strong bipartisan vote on this agreement will lay the groundwork for broader cooperation, and more progress, on the other important trade initiatives we have before us."
The trade pact, which was signed in July after four years of negotiation, would allow Mr. Bush to extend "normal trade relations" status to Vietnam. That would lower U.S. tariffs on Vietnamese goods to the same level enjoyed by most other countries.
The pact also opens Vietnam to American trade and investment, and takes initial steps to protect U.S. copyrights, patents and trademarks in the country's fledgling market economy.
Once submitted, the Vietnam agreement most likely would win quick approval because it has bipartisan support and because it has built-in procedures that guide it through Congress on an expedited basis.
Moving on the Vietnam deal is also critical to the administration's top trade-policy priority, securing "fast-track" authority from Congress to negotiate new trade agreements without congressional changes.
As recently as last week, Mr. Grassley had said he would defer to the administration in deciding when to move forward with the pact, which was finalized last year.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, testifying before a House committee last week, lashed out at criticism from Vietnam and some business groups that the administration is not moving fast enough on the agreement.
With several derogatory references to "communist Vietnam," Mr. Zoellick cited suppression of religious freedom and other human rights abuses as complications in U.S.-Vietnamese relations.
Other senators have pleaded with the administration to send the pact to Congress for approval.
Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, last week gathered a group of 20 senators who said it was time for the deal to be approved.
The first postwar U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, Douglas "Pete" Peterson, announced yesterday he would resign his post, effective July 15. Colleagues said Mr. Peterson was frustrated with the Bush administration's handling of Vietnam relations.
This article is based in part on wire-service reports.


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