WASHINGTON, May 9 (UPI) -- Unusually strong comments by the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam in support of human rights in that country have been called into question by a senior member of Congress from Northern Virginia.
"Big hat, no cattle," Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., told United Press International in response to Raymond F. Burghardt's prepared statement.
Charles J. Jess, the State Department's country officer for Vietnam, read the ambassador's statement at a Vietnam Human Rights Day commemoration at the Russell Senate Office Building on Friday. Burghardt is in Hanoi.
"The remarks are made in the nation's capital in the safe environment of a Senate caucus room," Wolf said in a phone interview. "Let's make the remarks in Hanoi. Show me the speeches you are making in the country.
"Quite frankly, the ambassador has not adequately spoken out on behalf of those who are being oppressed. The ambassador and the administration are more interested in trade. Everything is trade. They worship at the shrine of trade."
Wolf was not in the room when Jess read Burghardt's statement, but he spoke at the same podium later.
"Trade has not made any difference at all," Wolf said to applause.
A report next week from the International Religious Freedom Commission will show that conditions in Vietnam are worse than they were, Wolf told the attendees.
"Let's look at the report card," he said. The government tolerates the sexual trafficking of 20,000 women. Freedom of expression is non-existent, and freedom of religion is severely limited.
Wolf said the Bush administration ought to do more to press Vietnam's communist government on these issues. The congressman said it is incumbent on Burghardt, "who has not done that great of a job," to be more vocal.
Burghardt's brief remarks struck longtime watchers of U.S.-Vietnam relations as strong and unequivocal.
He said human rights are and will continue to be central to the relationship between the two countries and that differences on the issue impede the development of a stronger relationship. He said that U.S. diplomats meet, as they are able, with reform activists and religious leaders regardless of whether the Vietnamese government recognizes them.
But Wolf told the group that in human rights, as in politics, it is useless to assure someone of your private support. Ronald Reagan, he said, advocated publicly for those who were being oppressed and persecuted.
On the phone Wolf said: "When people in the Carter administration and Reagan administration went to the Soviet Union, they met with the dissidents. They went into the synagogues; they went into the churches; they went into the apartments of the people. They stood with them and publicly identified with them. And that really emboldened the dissidents and also sent a message to the Soviet Union that we know who these people are and we're standing with them. (Andrei) Sakharov, (Natan) Sharansky. Where are the names of all the political prisoners? Is the ambassador speaking out?"
Christians in Vietnam are being asked to recant their faith, Wolf said.
Wolf said Vietnam is one of the few countries (Cuba is another) that will not take back its citizens who have committed heinous crimes in the United States. "Has the ambassador spoken out with regard to that issue? Has he spoken out on behalf of the Montagnards?
"So no, they're not doing a good job. They're worshiping at shrine of trade."
Wolf said U.S. diplomats in Vietnam are not are behaving like the U.S. interest section in Cuba. "Look how the administration is ranting and raving about Castro -– and I agree with them. Why is he (Burghardt) not advocating in Vietnam the way that our people are down in Cuba?"
At the conference, Jess told UPI that he was not prepared to comment on Wolf's remarks.
Virginia State Sen. Leslie Byrne, D-Fairfax, introduced the resolution to establish Vietnam Human Rights Day as a member of the U.S. Congress in 1994. She also said that trade relations have been ineffective.
"It has not made anything better for those who are imprisoned, for those who are being punished, for those who lack basic rights and freedom. ... We must continue to push for trade sanctions where nothing else will work. ... We want human rights in Vietnam now," Byrne said.
Sen. George Allen, R-Va., said: "Vietnam Human Rights Day reflects a promise that has not yet been fulfilled."
Allen quoted from a Human Rights Watch report, which said local officials in Vietnam are being instructed to coordinate with party officials to eradicate all illegal religious organizations. Allen called this "something to be scorned."
"The Montagnards in Vietnam have been forced to renounce their Christianity as a result of the dictatorship," Allen said.