Obama banishing Vietnam War vestige by lifting arms embargo

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 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.

Locally, different perspectives certainly result in different opinions about Obama's visit to Vietnam.

Thai Dinh, who is a Vietnamese newsman, publishing daily newspaper and hosting a daily webcast for some 500,000 Vietnamese in Southern California, thinks it's very significant and historic.

"It's good that the Vietnamese will have American manpower in a war, a war with neighboring China," he said.

Dinh's quotes have been condensed a bit, as his English is halting but good.

Dinh said he learned English from other imprisoned dissidents in the seven years he spent in a Vietnamese jail after the war ended. His ''crime'' was publishing an underground-type magazine that the government didn't appreciate.

A few miles away, in the dim bar of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Anaheim, post Commander Gary Mason called Obama's visit to Vietnam a ''slap in the face."

He understands the regional threats, but said Vietnam "is a country that doesn't agree with us ideologically."

"I don't know if we can trust them. I wouldn't," Mason added.

Mason admitted he's still bitter over the treatment he and his fellow Vietnam veterans received when they came home 40 years ago.

"We were treated like criminals."

It's hard to imagine that now, but it was a reality.

Dinh understands that of course, but feels, as the President does, that it's time to move on.

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