Secretary of State Warren Christopher, posing for pictures with Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Manh Cam, praised Hanoi for its economic reforms but also expressed concern about a lack of personal freedoms in the Asian nation.
Hours before the Christopher-Cam meeting Tuesday, authorities in Hanoi turned over to U.S. officials the remains of Vietnam War victims, although their identification as U.S. servicemen is subject to verification by Army experts.Christopher said Vietnamese cooperation in providing an accounting for missing Americans has been positive since the two countries established normal relations two months ago.
During a photo session, Christopher said his early August visit to Vietnam gave him "a wonderful opportunity to observe Vietnam as a rapidly developing nation."
He said that despite U.S. concerns over the lack of political openness in Vietnam and over the human rights situation, "we feel this kind of dialogue can over time lead to progress."
The foreign minister also met with National Security Adviser Tony Lake at the White House to discuss POWs and MIAs and human rights issues, said spokesman David Johnson.
Cam was the highest level Vietnamese official to meet at the White House since the United States normalized relations with the country.
Christopher was to have met with Cam last week in New York but was forced to cancel the meeting because of the hastily arranged Israeli-Palestinian signing ceremony here.
An interagency team will travel soon to Vietnam to negotiate a trade agreement, which would then lead to the granting of normal tariff rates for Vietnamese products. Trade ties were restored in February 1994 after a 19-year suspension.
Cam said the two countries agree that "we should promote economic relations as a first step for better relations between the two countries."
Vietnam has returned the remains of 207 possible Vietnam War dead to the United States since the two countries began regular, joint battlefield excavations in 1992.