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Daily Brief: U.S. to Lift Arms Embargo on Vietnam

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May 23, 2016

Daily News Brief

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U.S. to Lift Arms Embargo on Vietnam

The United States will fully lift an arms embargo on Vietnam that has been in place since 1975, U.S. President Barack Obama announced (WaPo) on a visit to Hanoi. Speaking at a news conference with President Tran Dai Quang, Obama said the decision aimed "based on our desire to complete what has been a lengthy process of moving towards normalization with Vietnam." He also said that the two countries share concerns over Chinese provocations in the region. On Tuesday, Obama will meet with business and civil society leaders in Hanoi and give a speech on U.S.-Vietnam relations, before traveling to Ho Chi Minh city. A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said (SCMP) the country welcomed a "normal and friendly" relationship between the United States and Vietnam. But a state news editorial warned that rapprochement should not be used to "threaten or even damage the strategic interests of a third country (Xinhua)."


"For the White House, the decision on lifting the embargo has come down to a debate over trying to improve Vietnam’s poor human rights record versus enabling Vietnam to better defend itself against an increasing threat from China in the South China Sea. Washington has for years made lifting the ban contingent on Vietnam’s improving human rights for its people, and has prodded Vietnam to allow more freedom of speech and to release political prisoners. But as tensions with China have escalated in the South China Sea, the sentiment in the Obama administration has shifted toward lifting the ban, American officials familiar with the discussions said. Vietnam’s government, pressed by an ever more powerful China, knows it cannot stand up to Beijing alone and is cautiously moving toward increased ties with the United States," Jane Perlez writes for the New York Times.

"Vietnam remains one of the biggest jailers of journalists in the world, and the country is run by a one-party regime that engineered a change in leadership earlier this year in an opaque manner, with virtually no public input. When independent candidates—i.e., men and women who did not belong to the Communist Party—tried to run in elections earlier this year for the National Assembly, which is a rubber stamp legislature, the government prevented most of them from even running. Still, as I have noted before, Vietnam’s enormous strategic importance makes it worthy of a closer defense relationship with the United States, including arms sales. Unlike neighboring states such as Thailand, Myanmar, the Philippines, or Cambodia, Vietnam has a highly professional military and is relatively stable, if authoritarian," CFR's Joshua Kurlantzick writes in this blog post.

"Vietnam has emerged as a country increasingly central to U.S. strategy in the Asia-Pacific in spite of the lingering challenges inherent in the two-decade old diplomatic relationship. Economically, for instance, Hanoi is one of just four Southeast Asian countries that is party to the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and is an important partner in ongoing U.S. regional initiatives as well such as the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI). And on defense, Vietnam, a frontline state in the South China Sea disputes, has not only been a member of key U.S. initiatives like the Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative (MSI), but has worked with Washington to enhance its contributions to global security in fields like peacekeeping," Prashanth Parameswaran writes for the Diplomat.


South Korean Nuclear Victims Concerned With Obama's Japan Visit

A group representing South Koreans exposed to the U.S. nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many of them Korean soldiers conscripted by Japan, wrote a letter (FT) to U.S. President Barack Obama expressing concerns about his upcoming visit to Hiroshima. They worried that the visit could "further the Abe government’s intention of portraying Japan merely as a victim."


Obama Says Taliban Leader Killed in U.S. Drone Strike

U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, was killed in a U.S. drone strike (Reuters) in the first-ever such attack in Pakistan's Balochistan province (Dawn). Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called the strike a violation of the country's sovereignty and said it was unclear if Mansour had been killed (Dawn).

CFR's Micah Zenko and Amelia M. Wolf argue that the Obama administration is misleading the public about the precision of drone strikes in this Foreign Policy article.

INDIA: Meeting in Tehran, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Iranian Prime Minister Hassan Rouhani vowed to share intelligence to fight terrorism and extremism (Hindu). The leaders also discussed a contract between Indian and Iranian companies to develop Iran's southeastern Chabahar port, a project that will open a new trade route with Afghanistan and which has been delayed for a decade due to U.S. sanctions on Iran (WSJ).


Iraqi Forces Fight to Retake Fallujah From Islamic State

The Iraqi military began an offensive against the self-proclaimed Islamic State to retake the city of Fallujah, which in January 2014 became the first Iraqi city to fall to the militant group. At least six civilians were reportedly killed in shelling on Monday (Al Jazeera); as many as seventy-five thousand civilians are trapped in the city.

LIBYA: The Libyan coast guard announced that it had intercepted seven inflatable rubber boats with 850 migrants attempting to reach Europe (Libya Observer).

This CFR Backgrounder explores Europe's migrant crisis.


Burundi Civil Society Organizations Complain of Exclusion From Peace Talks

A coalition of 118 civil society groups said they were being excluded from peace talks going on in the Tanzanian city of Arusha (VOA). The Burundian foreign minister said the government would not engage with opposition groups it deemed "coup plotters" or "sponsors of acts of terrorism."

This CFR Global Conflict Tracker discusses the outbreak of violence in Burundi around President Pierre Nkurunziza's election to a disputed third term in office.

MALI: Scores of protesters demonstrated against poor governance and corruption in the capital of Bamako on Saturday (Africa News), with signs reading "No to insecurity" and "Malians are hungry."


Merkel Criticizes Move Exposing Kurdish Lawmakers to Prosecution

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said (FT) a Turkish vote to strip nearly one-third of its lawmakers of their immunity to prosecution "would have grave consequences, especially for Kurdish politicians." Meanwhile, the United Nation's first World Humanitarian Summit opened on Monday in Istanbul with representatives from 175 countries (Guardian). The summit has been protested by humanitarian groups, with Medecins Sans Frontieres calling the event "a fig leaf" for international policy failures.

Kemal Kirisci discusses Turkey's political objectives in the migration crisis in this CFR interview.

AUSTRIA: A presidential vote that could usher in a far-right candidate in the European Union was too close to call on Monday morning (Guardian). Postal ballots, which account for 14 percent of votes, were being tallied, with a result expected later on Monday.


Argentina Union Leaders Discuss General Strike for June

In protest of President Mauricio Macri's veto of a so-called "anti-layoff" bill, Argentina's union leaders have discussed the possibility of a general strike in the first week of June (Buenos Aires Herald).

CHILE: Violent protests during President Michelle Bachelet's state of the nation address left a security guard dead from fume inhalation (BBC). Bachelet's popularity has plummeted during an economic downturn and a corruption scandal involving her relatives (MercoPress).  

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