- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Warning Vietnam

The American ambassador in Hanoi yesterday warned the Vietnamese government it is risking its relations with Washington by a continuing crackdown on dissidents, after authorities blocked most of the relatives of opposition figures from attending a meeting at the U.S. Embassy.

“The deteriorating situation is becoming a larger and larger part of our dialogue,” Ambassador Michael Marine told reporters in the Vietnamese capital. “Frankly it has reached a point of taking us away from discussing other points.”

He disclosed that he has raised objections over the arrests and harassment of journalists and activists in private meetings with government leaders.

“We have made clear to Vietnamese officials that the government’s crackdown on individuals whose sole crime is peaceful expression of their political views works against U.S.-Vietnamese efforts to strengthen the relationship,” he said.

Mr. Marine said only one of the relatives of five dissidents managed to make it to a meeting with him on Tuesday.

“The others were prevented from coming either by being called in to the police station or police outside their homes,” he said.

Mr. Marine noted that Tuesday’s meeting was the second one in a month disrupted by authorities.

The ambassador yesterday also complained about Vietnam’s lax enforcement of copyrights, patents and trademarks and warned that the failure to protect intellectual property rights will scare off international investors.

“The high rates of piracy and counterfeit goods in Vietnam are of particular concern, and they pose a real threat to Vietnam’s future capacity for scientific and cultural achievements,” he said in remarks posted on the embassy’s Web site (https://hanoi.usembassy.gov).

He noted that Vietnam has recently adopted laws and mounted a public relations campaign to protect intellectual property rights.

“Passing new laws and regulations, of course, is not enough,” he added. “Strong enforcement is absolutely essential.”

Berating Belarus

The United States yesterday told the authoritarian government of Belarus to expect further U.S. sanctions if it interferes with a scheduled opposition demonstration and continues to hold political prisoners.

David Kramer, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, delivered that message in a meeting with Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov on a visit to the capital, Minsk.

Opposition leaders plan to hold a march today on the 21st anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in neighboring Ukraine. Fallout from the nuclear explosion affected Belarus worse than any other country. The annual march has become an occasion for opponents of President Alexander Lukashenko to demand civil rights.

Mr. Kramer said any chance of improving ties with the United States will depend upon Mr. Lukashenko loosening his persecution of political dissidents.

“This means taking concrete steps, the release of all political prisoners and allowing tomorrow’s event to be staged freely,” Mr. Kramer told reporters. “If these steps are not taken, I fear our relations will deteriorate.”

He said future U.S. sanctions could expand the travel ban to the United States beyond Mr. Lukashenko and some of his closest aides and restrict U.S. trade with Belarusian firms.

The United States and the European Union imposed the ban on Mr. Lukashenko and his top officials last year after international monitors concluded he rigged his re-election to a third term.

For its part, the Foreign Ministry announced the meeting between Mr. Kramer and Mr. Martynov and said, “During the meeting the parties discussed issues on the agenda of the Belarusian-American relations.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@ washingtontimes.com.


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