WASHINGTON – The Bush administration prodded Vietnam on Tuesday to fairly try three U.S. citizens facing charges of attempting to prompt a rebellion against the communist government.
The comments by State Department spokesman Sean McCormack came just days before President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are to travel to Hanoi for talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program and other regional security and economic concerns.
"What we would ask is that any judicial proceedings proceed in a free and in a fair and transparent manner," McCormack told reporters.
A court official said in Ho Chi Minh City that the trial of seven people, including three Americans, would begin Friday. The three are Thuong Nguyen "Cuc" Foshee of Orlando, Fla., Le Van Binh "Phu" of Tampa and Huynh Bich Lien "Linda" of San Gabriel, Calif.
The seven are accused of trying to take over state radio stations to call for an uprising against the Vietnamese government. The terrorism charges carry sentences ranging from 12 years in prison to death by firing squad.
Rice is to attend a foreign ministers' meeting in Hanoi next Thursday. Bush and other world leaders will attend a meeting of the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group Nov. 18-19 in Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital.
"I don't expect that this is going to affect the secretary's trip to Vietnam or the president's trip," McCormack said.
Court officials in Vietnam said the defendants were connected to the California-based Government of Free Vietnam, which the Vietnamese government considers a terrorist organization.
Meanwhile, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab welcomed Vietnam's accession to the World Trade Organization and called on Congress to approve legislation to normalize trade relations with the booming Southeast Asian country.
Schwab urged U.S. legislators to act on a bill that would lift trade restrictions with Asia's fastest-growing economy after China. The bill has stalled over concerns about the three U.S. citizens facing trial.
So-called permanent normal trade relations with Vietnam, Schwab said, would "permit U.S. businesses, workers and consumers to benefit fully from Vietnam's accession."
The WTO formally invited Vietnam on Tuesday to become its 150th member, completing 11 years of entry talks with the Geneva-based commerce body.
WTO membership would give Vietnam increased access to foreign markets and the opportunity to take trade grievances to a neutral arbiter. In return, the country would be required to drop its high tariffs on foreign imports and eliminate subsidies for state-owned companies.