THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT ON THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF VIETNAM BILATERAL TRADE AGREEMENT The Rose Garden
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Just a few moments ago, Ambassador Barshefsky and Minister Vu Khoan signed an agreement between the United States and Vietnam that will dramatically open Vietnam's economy, further integrate it into the international community and increase trade between our two nations. And so from the bitter past, we plant the seeds of a better future.
This is another historic step in the process of normalization, reconciliation and healing between our two nations. Improvements in the relationship between the United States and Vietnam have depended from the beginning upon progress in determining the fate of Americans who did not return from the war.
In 1994, with the support of the members of Congress standing with me here and others, I lifted the trade embargo on Vietnam in response to its cooperation on the POW/MIA issue. A year later, I normalized diplomatic relations between our two nations to further this goal. As further progress was made in 1996, I appointed former Congressman Pete Peterson -- himself, a former prisoner of war -- to be our United States Ambassador in Vietnam.
With the indispensable help of key congressional allies, especially Senator John Kerry and Senator John McCain, Senator Bob Kerrey and Senator Chuck Hagel and Senator Chuck Robb; Representative Rick Boucher, Representative Reyes, who is here, Representative Manzullo, Representatives Lane Evans, Kolbe, Bereuter and McDermott, this process has worked.
Since 1993, we have undertaken 39 joint recovery operations with Vietnam, and the number of 40 is underway as we speak. One hundred and thirty-five American families have received the remains of their loved ones, and we're in the process of identifying another 150 possible sets of remains. Time and again, the Vietnamese people have shared their memories with Americans. And we, too, have sought to help Vietnam in its own search for answers.
Our nation has also felt a special sense of responsibility to those people in Vietnam whose families were torn apart during and after the war. In the last few years, we've made tremendous progress in resettling tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees in the United States, closing yet another painful chapter.
And Vietnam has done much to turn its face toward a changing world. It has worked to open its economy and move into the mainstream of Southeast Asia as a member of the Association of Southeast Asian nations and APEC. Our trading relations have also grown. When I took office our exports to Vietnam totaled just $4 million. Today, they stand at $291 million.
The agreement we signed today will dramatically open Vietnam's markets on everything from agriculture to industrial goods to telecommunications products, while creating jobs both in Vietnam and in the United States.
With this agreement, Vietnam has agreed to speed its opening to the world; to subject important decisions to the rule of law and the international trading system; to increase the flow of information to its people; by inviting competition in, to accelerate the rise of a free market economy and the private sector within Vietnam, itself. We hope expanded trade will go hand in hand with strength and respect for human rights and labor standards. For we live in an age where wealth is generated by the free exchange of ideas and stability depends on democratic choices. By signing this agreement, Vietnam takes an important step in the right direction.
We've been working on this agreement since 1996, and there are many people who deserve recognition. I want to say a special thanks to our Trade Representative, Ambassador Barshefsky; our Deputy USTR, Richard Fisher; Joe Damond, of USTR, for working so hard in the last four years to turn this agreement into reality.
I would also like to thank their Vietnamese counterparts: Trade Minister Vu Khoan; Chief Negotiator Nguyen Dinh Luong. And I want to say a special word of thanks also to Vietnamese Ambassador La Van Bang and to our Ambassador Pete Peterson, who have worked so hard to build ties among our nations and our people.
And let me say, again, it is my opinion that none of this would have been possible had it not been for the visionary and brave and reconciling leadership of the Americans in the United States Congress who served, many of whom suffered, in Vietnam; especially those who are here with me and the others whose names I mentioned earlier. Our debt to them as a nation is immense.
This agreement is one more reminder that former adversaries can come together to find common ground in a way that benefits all their people, to let go of the past and embrace the future, to forgive and to reconcile. As all of you know, that is what we are now trying to achieve at Camp David in what many believe is the most difficult of all historical circumstances.
This day is encouraging to me, and I will take the energy I feel here from all these people back to Camp David and make the argument that they should follow suit. Thank you very much.
Q Mr. President, you've talked about going to Vietnam. Are you planning to go to Vietnam after the APEC ministerial in November?
THE PRESIDENT: I haven't made a decision yet.
Q Mr. President, have you seen the videotape of the beating that a suspect apparently took at the hands of the Philadelphia police yesterday, and are you concerned about it? Have you asked any of the authorities to look into it?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I haven't seen it, because I've been pretty isolated in the peace talks; but I've been briefed about it. The Justice Department is looking into it. And when I was in Baltimore on the way down here today, I spoke briefly with Mayor Street. And he assured me that he was going to go home and handle it in the appropriate way, and I trust him. He's a strong man and a good man, and I think he will do what is right.
Q Sir, is any substantial progress being made at Camp David? And there seems to be some confusion about whether you will allow the Palestinian opposition figures to come in to see Chairman Arafat.
THE PRESIDENT: I think I should say nothing about what's going on at Camp David; the less I say, the greater our chances of success.
Thank you very much.
END 4:16 P.M. EDT