HANOI, Vietnam — The United States is rescinding a decades-old ban on sales of lethal military equipment to Vietnam, President Obama announced at a news conference in Hanoi on Monday, ending one of the last legal vestiges of the Vietnam War.
The United States has long made lifting the embargo contingent on Vietnam’s improving its human rights record, and recently administration officials had hinted that the ban could be removed partly in response to China’s buildup in the South China Sea.But Mr. Obama portrayed the decision as part of the long process of normalizing relations between the two countries after the Vietnam War.“The decision to lift the ban was not based on China or any other considerations,” he said, with the Vietnamese president, Tran Dai Quang, standing stiffly by his side. “It was based on our desire to complete what has been a lengthy process of moving toward normalization with Vietnam.
”Mr. Obama insisted that the move should not be interpreted as carte blanche for weapons sales to Vietnam and that the United States would review future arms sales to “examine what’s appropriate and what’s not,” as it does with any country.
As for human rights, he said, “this is an area where we still have differences.”Human rights advocates, who had asked Mr. Obama to hold off on lifting the ban until Vietnam had released some prominent political prisoners and promised to stop the police beatings of protesters, condemned the decision.“President Obama just gave Vietnam a reward that they don’t deserve,” said John Sifton, the Asia policy director of Human Rights Watch.Mr. Quang defended his country’s rights record.“The consistent position and viewpoint of the Vietnamese government is to protect and promote human rights,” he said, adding, “Those achievements have been highly recognized and appreciated by the international community.
”American officials have portrayed lifting the embargo as part of a strategy to help Vietnam defend itself against an increasing threat from China in the South China Sea. Analysts have speculated that in return, Vietnam would grant the United States access to the deepwater port at Cam Ranh Bay.While there were no statements about such a deal on Monday, Mr. Obama did announce new commercial agreements worth more than $16 billion, including one in which Boeing will sell 100 aircraft and Pratt & Whitney will sell 135 advanced aircraft engines to VietJet Air, a privately owned low-cost airline.