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Obama Announces U.S. Will Lift Arms Embargo Against Vietnam

Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang and U.S. President Obama take part in a joint press conference Monday at the International Convention Center in Hanoi.

President Obama announced Monday that the U.S. is fully lifting a five-decades-long arms embargo against Vietnam.

The embargo on lethal military equipment had been partially lifted in 2014; now it will be raised fully, the White House says. The president spoke about the decision from Hanoi, during the first day of a weeklong trip to Asia.

"As with all our defense partners, sales will need to still meet strict requirements, including those related to human rights," Obama said at a joint news conference with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang. "But this change will ensure that Vietnam has access to the equipment it needs to defend itself and removes a lingering vestige of the Cold War. It also underscores the commitment of the United States to a fully normalized relationship with Vietnam, including strong defense ties with Vietnam and this region for the long term."

Michael Sullivan, reporting for NPR from Hanoi, tells us that Vietnam had been looking for an end to the embargo for years.

"But some both in the U.S. and Vietnam argued the embargo should remain until the one-party state improved its human rights record," Sullivan says.

The Associated Press notes that in his speech Monday, Obama largely avoided the issue of how Vietnam treats political prisoners:

"Obama steered clear of harsh condemnation of what critics see as Vietnam's abysmal treatment of dissidents, describing instead modest progress on rights. ... Activists said his decision to lift the embargo destroyed the best U.S. leverage for pushing Vietnam on abuse."

Obama's visit to Vietnam is meant to strengthen the bond between the two countries as regional anxiety grows over China's activities in the South China Sea, Sullivan reports. He notes that China "has reclaimed several contested reefs, constructing military-capable airfields its neighbors and the U.S. view as a potential threat."

But the White House maintains that's not the motivation for the lifting of the arms embargo on Vietnam.

"President Obama insists the decision to allow arms sales to Vietnam after a half-century's prohibition is not intended as a provocative response to China's growing military might," NPR's Scott Horsley reports. "Instead, he says it's a nod towards the deepening and broadening ties between the U.S. and Hanoi, 20 years after the resumption of normal diplomatic relations."

Relations between the two countries were normalized in 1995.

There's a growing commercial bond between the two countries, Scott notes. Both imports and exports between the U.S. and Vietnam have been steadily increasing in recent years.

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