Nancy Benac, Associated Press – HANOI, Vietnam (AP) - Eager to banish lingering shadows of the Vietnam War, President Barack Obama lifted the U.S. embargo on selling arms to America's former enemy Monday and made the case for a more trusting and prosperous relationship going forward. Activists said the president was being too quick to gloss over serious human rights abuses in his push to establish warmer ties.
After spending his first day in Vietnam shuttling among meetings with different government leaders, Obama will spend the next two days speaking directly to the Vietnamese people and meeting with civil society groups and young entrepreneurs. It's all part of his effort to "upgrade" the U.S. relationship with an emerging economic power in Southeast Asia and a nation that the U.S. also hopes can serve as a counterweight to Chinese aggression in the region.
Tracing the arc of the U.S.-Vietnamese relationship through cooperation, conflict, "painful separation" and a long reconciliation, Obama marveled during a news conference with the Vietnamese president that "if you consider where we have been and where we are now, the transformation in the relations between our two countries is remarkable."
President Tran Dai Quang said later at a lavish state luncheon that he was grateful for the American people's efforts to put an end to "an unhappy chapter in the two countries' history," referring to the 1965-1975 U.S. war with Vietnam's communists, who now run the country.
The only war America has lost, the conflict killed 57,000 American military personnel and as many as 2 million Vietnamese military and civilians.
Quang added, though, that "the wounds of the war have not been fully healed in both countries."
Still, Quang said, both sides are determined to have a more cooperative relationship.
That mindset was evident in the friendly crowds that lined the streets as Obama's motorcade zigzagged around Hanoi on Monday. And when Obama emerged from a tiny Vietnamese restaurant after a $6 dinner with CNN personality Anthony Bourdain, the president shook hands with members of the squealing crowd and waved as if he really didn't want to get back in the limousine.