By WALTER R. MEARS
HANOI, Vietnam – President Clinton told the Vietnamese people today that the “shared suffering” of war has intertwined their nation and his in both the pain of the past and the promise of a better future. He spoke and toured in what was an enemy capital until 25 years ago, reconciled during his eight years as president.
No president before had come to Hanoi, and none had been to Vietnam since the end of “the conflict we call the Vietnam war and you call the American war,” as Clinton described it.
To a communist nation still suspicious of the West, Clinton urged a more open society and economy, both in his speech at the Vietnam National University and in private conferences with President Tran Duc Luong and Prime Minister Phan Van Khai.
He also told the Vietnamese leaders that greater freedom and human rights would make theirs a more stable and ultimately more prosperous society. They did not agree, saying, according to Clinton’s national security adviser, that they have different interpretations of human rights.
The president told the audience of mostly students that it is time for the former enemies “to remember our history but not to perpetuate it, to give young people like you in both our countries the chance to live in your tomorrows, not in our yesterdays.”
He did not speak of his own yesterday as an opponent of the war who avoided the draft in 1969 and had to deal with the issue in his political campaigns.
Clinton gave his speech, the major address of his three-day Vietnam visit, to about 600 people at the university, and to the nation beyond by television.
In an unprecedented act, Vietnamese authorities broadcast the address, live and in a taped replay tonight.
Along Hanoi’s Hai Ba Trung street, a stretch of TV and stereo shops, passers-by stopped to watch – at least a few at every shop, over a dozen at some.
Clinton was first the diplomat, then the tourist, then the campaigner, grasping hands in the sidewalk crowd along Van Mieu Street after a walking the walled grounds of the Temple of Literature, a 1,000-year-old museum, once a university dedicated to literature and philosophy.
At the university, where much of the audience listened through translation headphones, Clinton ventured a brief welcome in Vietnamese, saying the crowd could feel free to laugh if he messed it up. “Xin chao cac ban,” he said. Which means, “Hello, everybody.”
His wife, Sen.-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton, and his daughter, Chelsea, were in the audience. Her election success drew a compliment from Vietnamese President Luong. “We are all very happy,” he told her.
In urging a more open Vietnamese trading economy and society, Clinton acknowledged that no one can force change on a nation determined to make its own decisions – a nation which fought off the United States when it tried to block communism here.
Speaking of the toll of war, 58,000 American lives, 3 million dead in Vietnam, Clinton said “this shared suffering has given our countries a relationship unlike any other.”
He said it links the 1 million Americans of Vietnamese ancestry, the 3 million U.S. veterans and others who served here during the conflict, and “are forever connected to your country.”
Clinton said it also is shared in the effort to find and identify the remains of 1,400 Americans still listed as missing in action in Vietnam and in U.S. assistance to the Vietnamese in trying to account for their 300,000 missing. He said it was Vietnamese cooperation in that mission that made possible the resumption of trade in 1994, of diplomatic relations in 1995, and a new trade agreement in 2000.
“Finally, America is coming to see Vietnam as your people have asked for years, as a country, not a war,” Clinton said. He said it is a country “emerging from years of conflict and uncertainty to shape a bright future.”
Clinton urged that it be a future built on freer trade – and also on freedoms now restricted by the communist regime. On the red carpeted stage behind him was a larger-than-life bust of the man who emblemized that regime and the American defeat of 1975 while he lived, Ho Chi Minh.
The president said the knowledge to be gained on campuses like Hanoi’s will be vital in the future of globalization of economies, and so will the freedom to explore, travel, think, speak, worship and dissent.
“All this makes our country stronger in good times and in bad,” Clinton said. “We do not seek to impose these ideals, nor should we. Vietnam is an ancient and enduring country.”
“You have proved to the world that you will make your own decisions,” he said. But his words were a summons to a turn away from the barriers of the communist way.
Later at a state dinner, Clinton made the same point. “The history we leave behind is painful and hard,” he said in a toast. “We must not forget it but we must not be controlled by it.”
On a hectic day, there was a quiet moment in his tour of the ancient Temple of Literature, now a park-like museum, sponsored in part by American Express.
Outside its head-high walls, Vietnamese street life blared on, a cacophony of horns and street noise, the rush of cars and bicycles. The street where Clinton’s motorcade waited had been blocked to traffic, yet crowded with people who stood eight and 10 deep on the sidewalk.
They cheered as he emerged, and he walked straight to them, to grasp hands in the style of the old vote hunter.
Smiling, then waving, he worked his way a half block, then went into Craft Link, a Vietnamese handicrafts shop. He strolled among the scarves, tapestries, purses and baskets, buying a shopping bag full but keeping his purchases to himself.
He said they were Christmas gifts and he didn’t want to spoil the surprise.
Clinton then went next door, to KOTO restaurant, for lunch. The restaurant is a vocational training and guidance center for Vietnamese street youths.
Crowds lined the streets all along Clinton’s route from the Daewoo Hotel, first to the mustard-yellow presidential palace, in the park-like setting of Ba Dinh Square, just beyond the giant mausoleum memorial to Minh.
A bust of Ho was the dominant feature of the ornate reception room where President Luong welcomed Clinton. First, the two presidents stood in the morning sun on a yellow canopied, red carpeted stand while a military band sounded the national anthems of the two nations, then played on as they walked the wide stairway to the palace.
Clinton conferred privately with Luong, then the two presidents watched as U.S. ambassador Pete Peterson and Vietnamese officials signed an agreement for cooperation in science and technology, including efforts to control AIDs and other diseases. They also signed a memorandum on labor cooperation, for worker safety, dealing with the disabled, skills training and other points.
The Vietnamese told Clinton they will sign an international convention aimed at curbing child labor abuses, White House Press Secretary Jake Siewert said.
The crowds lining Clinton’s route were friendly. These were not organized turnouts. Often, a foreign government prepares for a presidential visit by distributing tiny flags for onlookers to wave. There were none here, although U.S. and Vietnamese flags flew side by side on flagpoles at each official stop.
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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