[JURIST] The United States and Vietnam have ended a three-year suspension on talks regarding human rights and religious freedoms [HRW backgrounder] in the communist country, Barry Lowenkron [official profile], US Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour [official website] said Monday. The suspension began when the US cancelled the annual Human Rights Dialogue with the Government of Vietnam in 2003 due to a lack of progress on the issues. In his announcement, Lowenkron highlighted progress made since that time, including the release of activist Nguyen Khac Toan [BBC report] in January, but urged the government to release more prisoners of conscience and emphasized the need for Hanoi to do more.
The US currently regards Vietnam as a "country of particular concern" (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 [text; State Dept. materials] for "particularly severe violations of religious freedom" [State Dept. report], but Hanoi agreed in 2005 to take steps to advance and protect religious freedom. Vietnam then defended its human rights record in its first White Paper on Human Rights [PDF text]. Despite the lack of dialogue between the countries at the time, US lawmakers last June called for a discussion [JURIST report] of rights issues when Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai [Wikipedia profile], the first Vietnamese head of government to visit the US since the end of the Vietnam War, met with President Bush [BBC report] last June. Reuters has more.