- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2005

The head says one thing, the heart says another.

Vietnamese-Americans in the Washington region say Prime Minister Phan Van Khai’s visit with President Bush leaves them uneasy — some are hopeful that human rights will improve in Vietnam, but others are skeptical.

“My heart says yes; my head says no,” says Tommy Tran, a 42-year-old Rockville resident who left Vietnam in 1979.

Mr. Tran, who is in financial sales, does not trust the prime minister because the leader is of the “old generation.” Mr. Tran visited his homeland last summer and found that not much had changed. He says the communist government has done nothing to improve women’s rights or religious freedom.

“Everything is under their control,” says Mr. Tran, who was visiting the Eden Center shopping complex in Falls Church.

Still, he hopes the meeting will foster better relations.

Mike Do, who fled Saigon with his father as a teenager in 1980, hopes the meeting results in more freedom in Vietnam.

“If you raise your voice about the corruption, they say they will do something about it, but actually they will do something about you,” says Mr. Do, 40. “The government can shut you down any time” it wants to.

Mr. Do, a Gaithersburg resident who works for the U.S. government, thinks America gives Vietnam “too many chances.”

Mr. Do’s skepticism echoes the angry shouts of a day earlier, when hundreds of angry Vietnamese protested outside the White House. They carried signs likening the prime minister to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and criticized the communist nation. Many called Mr. Khai a “liar” and say they do not trust him.

Tuyet Ton of Hoang Yen Travel in Falls Church says little will be affected by the prime minister’s visit. “It will not change anything.”

Other Vietnamese-Americans praise the meeting as a small step to a better future.

Tran Hoang, a Springfield resident who publishes a Vietnamese-language newspaper, says both countries can benefit from improved relations.

“That’s the politics game,” Mr. Hoang, 56, says. “This is the right time for Bush to have a good relationship with Vietnam.”

Mr. Hoang says Vietnam’s communist history will be a big hurdle. “It’s taken a long time to get rid of the communists,” he says. He points to his head and says, “It’s in here.”

Some angry American veterans of the Vietnam War joined the immigrants in protesting the prime minister’s visit.

Vietnam veteran Jerry Kiley yesterday was charged with assault after federal prosecutors said he heckled the prime minister Tuesday night.

The Garnerville, N.Y., resident faces charges of intimidating, coercing, threatening and harassing Mr. Khai. Prosecutors accused Mr. Kiley of throwing a clear liquid at the prime minister during a dinner hosted by the U.S.-Vietnam Trade Council and the U.S.-Association of Southeast Asian Nations Business Council.

The veteran was jailed overnight and ordered not to have any contact with the Vietnamese delegation for the rest of its U.S. tour.

Mr. Khai earlier this week signed an agreement with the United States that will allow Americans to adopt children from Vietnam.

“We were delighted,” says Kathleen Brown of Falls Church, who has an adopted daughter and wants to adopt a second child from Vietnam. Mrs. Brown, a member of Families With Children From Vietnam, hopes her daughter, 3-year-old Claire, will someday work to improve the relationship between the two nations.

Five families in Mrs. Brown’s group had a dinner meeting planned for last night with the prime minister.

Many Vietnamese-Americans yesterday were hesitant to speak to a reporter in fear that they would be penalized by the communist government if they attempted to return home to visit family.

* Jon Fogg contributed to this report.

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