- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 24, 2016

President Obama called for Vietnam to allow greater freedoms for its people Tuesday, even as some Vietnamese dissidents were prevented from meeting with him on his second full day in the country.

In a speech to an audience of about 2,000 at the National Convention Center in Hanoi, Mr. Obama said governments are stronger when they allow freedom of speech and free access to social media, which authorities are blocking during the president’s visit.

“Upholding these rights is not a threat to stability but actually reinforces stability and is the foundation of progress,” Mr. Obama said. “Vietnam will do it differently than the United States does. … But there are these basic principles that I think we all have to try to work on and improve.”

But earlier, in a meeting with activists at a hotel, the president acknowledged that some dissidents who had been invited by the White House were not able to attend the meeting. Neither the White House nor the Vietnamese government provided an explanation; human-rights groups said police are preventing some dissidents from leaving their homes during Mr. Obama’s visit.

“I should note that there were several other activists who were invited that were prevented from coming for various reasons,” Mr. Obama said, adding that “there are still areas of significant concern” on human rights in Vietnam.

“It’s my hope the government of Vietnam comes to recognize what we recognize and so many countries around the world have come to recognize: That it’s very hard to prosper in this modern economy when you haven’t fully unleashed the potential of your people, and your people’s potential in part derives from their ability to express themselves and express new ideas to try to right wrongs that are taking place in the society,” the president said.

On Monday, Mr. Obama announced he is lifting a 50-year-old embargo on U.S. arms sales to Vietnam. Critics of both parties in Congress and human-rights groups slammed the decision, saying the administration is giving up a key piece of leverage for compelling Hanoi to improve its human-rights record.

After Hanoi, Mr. Obama is visiting Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, to visit the Jade Pagoda and meet with entrepreneurs.

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