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Friday, July 13, 2012

U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT PROFILE OF VIETNAM


Map Credit:  U.S. State Department.
FROM:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
VIETNAM
PROFILE
Geography
Area: 331,114 sq. km. (127,243 sq. mi.); equivalent in size to Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee combined.
Cities (2009): Capital--Hanoi (pop. 6.472 million). Other cities--Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon; pop. 7.163 million), Haiphong (pop. 1.841 million), Danang (pop. 890,500), Can Tho (pop. 1.189 million).
Terrain: Varies from mountainous to coastal delta.
Climate: Tropical monsoon.

People
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Vietnamese (sing. and pl.).
Population (2011): 90 million.
Annual population growth rate (2011): 1.077%.
Ethnic groups (2009): 54 groups including Vietnamese (Kinh) (73.594 million, or 85.7% of the population), Tay (1.89%), Thai (1.8%), Muong (1.47%), Khmer (1.46%), Chinese (0.95%), Nung (1.12%), Hmong (1.24%).
Religions (2008): Buddhism (approx. 50%), Catholicism (8%-10%), Cao Dai (1.5%-3%), Protestantism (0.5%-2%), Hoa Hao (1.5%-4%), Islam (0.1%), and other animist religions.
Languages: Vietnamese (official), English (increasingly favored as a second language), some French, Chinese, and other ethnic minority languages.
Education (2009): Literacy--94%.
Health (2011): Birth rate--17.07 births/1,000 population. Infant mortality rate--20.9 deaths/1,000 live births. Life expectancy--73 yrs. Death rate--5.96/1,000 population.

Government 
Type: Single-party constitutional republic (Communist Party).
Independence: September 2, 1945.
Constitution: April 15, 1992.
Branches: Executive--president (head of state and chair of National Defense and Security Council) and prime minister (heads cabinet of ministries and commissions). Legislative--National Assembly. Judicial--Supreme People's Court; Prosecutorial Supreme People's Procuracy.
Administrative subdivisions: 58 provinces, 5 municipalities (Can Tho, Haiphong, Danang, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City).
Political party: Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) with over 3 million members, formerly (1951-76) Vietnam Worker's Party, itself the successor of the Indochinese Communist Party founded in 1930.
Suffrage: Universal over 18.

Economy
GDP: (2010) $102 billion; (2011, first 9 months) $81 billion.
Real GDP growth rate: (2010) 6.8%; (2011, first 9 months) 5.76%.
Per capita income (2010): U.S. $1,168.
Inflation rate: 9.2% (average monthly Consumer Price Index of 2010, year-on-year); 18.16% (average monthly Consumer Price Index of first 9 months of 2011, year-on-year).
External debt (2010): 42.2% of GDP, $32.50 billion.
Natural resources: Coal, crude oil, zinc, copper, silver, gold, manganese, iron.
Agriculture, forestry, and fisheries (20.58% of GDP, 2010): Principal products--rice, coffee, cashews, maize, pepper (spice), sweet potato, pork, peanuts, plus extensive aquaculture of both fish and shellfish species. Cultivated land--12.2 million hectares. Land use--21% arable; 28% forest and woodland; 51% other.

Industry and construction (41.09% of GDP, 2010): Principal types--mining and quarrying, manufacturing, electricity, gas, crude oil, water supply, cement, coal, and steel.
Services (38.33% of GDP, 2010): Principal types--tourism, wholesale and retail, repair of vehicles and personal goods, hotel and restaurant, transport storage, telecommunications.
Trade: Exports--(2010) $71.6 billion; (2011, first 9 months) $70 billion. Principal exports--crude oil, garments/textiles, footwear, fishery and seafood products, rice (world’s second-largest exporter), pepper (spice; world’s largest exporter), wood products, coffee, rubber, cashews, jewelry, and footwear. Major export partners--U.S., EU, ASEAN, Japan, China, and South Korea. Imports--(2010) $84 billion; (2011, first 9 months) $76.87 billion. Principal imports--machinery, oil and gas, iron and steel, garment materials, plastics, and electronics. Major import partners--China, ASEAN, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and EU.Exports to U.S.--(2010) $14.3 billion; (2011, first 9 months) $10.9 billion. Imports from U.S.--(2010) 3.7 billion; (2011, first 9 months) $2.8 billion.

PEOPLE
Originating in what is now southern China and northern Vietnam, the Vietnamese people pushed southward over 2 millennia to occupy the entire eastern seacoast of the Indochinese Peninsula. Vietnam has 54 ethnic groups; ethnic Vietnamese or Kinh constitute approximately 85% of Vietnam's population. The next largest groups are ethnic Tay and Thai, which account for 1.89% and 1.8% of Vietnam's population and are concentrated in the country's northern highlands.

With a population of more than 900,000, Vietnam's Chinese community has historically played an important role in the Vietnamese economy. Restrictions on economic activity following reunification of the north and south in 1975 and a general deterioration in Vietnamese-Chinese relations caused increasing anxiety within the Chinese-Vietnamese community. As tensions between Vietnam and China reached their peak in 1978-79, culminating in a brief but bloody war in February-March 1979, some 450,000 ethnic Chinese left Vietnam by boat as refugees (many officially encouraged and assisted) or were expelled across the land border with China.

Other significant ethnic minority groups include central highland peoples (formerly collectively termed Montagnards) such as the Gia Rai, Bana, Ede, Xo Dang, Gie Trieng, and the Khmer Krom (Cambodians), who are concentrated near the Cambodian border and at the mouth of the Mekong River. Taken collectively, these groups made up a majority of the population in much of Vietnam's central highlands until the 1960s and 1970s. They now compose a significant minority of 25% to 35% of the provinces in that region.

Vietnamese is the official language of the country. It is a tonal language with influences from Thai, Khmer, and Chinese. Since the early 20th century, the Vietnamese have used a Romanized script introduced by the French. Previously, Chinese characters and an indigenous phonetic script were both used.

HISTORY
Vietnam's identity has been shaped by long-running conflicts, both internally and with foreign forces. In 111 BC, China's Han dynasty conquered northern Vietnam's Red River Delta and the ancestors of today's Vietnamese. Chinese dynasties ruled Vietnam for the next 1,000 years, inculcating it with Confucian ideas and political culture, but also leaving a tradition of resistance to foreign occupation. In 939 AD, Vietnam achieved independence under a native dynasty. After 1471, when Vietnam conquered the Champa Kingdom in what is now central Vietnam, the Vietnamese moved gradually southward, finally reaching the agriculturally rich Mekong Delta, where they encountered previously settled communities of Cham and Cambodians. As Vietnam's Le dynasty declined, powerful northern and southern families, the Trinh and Nguyen, fought civil wars in the 17th and 18th centuries. A peasant revolt originating in the Tay Son region of central Vietnam defeated both the Nguyen and the Trinh and unified the country at the end of the 18th century, but was itself defeated by a surviving member of the Nguyen family, who founded the Nguyen dynasty as Emperor Gia Long in 1802.

French Rule and the Anti-Colonial Struggle
In 1858, the French began their conquest of Vietnam starting in the south. They annexed all of Vietnam in 1885, governing the territories of Annan, Tonkin, and Cochin China, together with Cambodia and Laos, as French Indochina. The French ruled Cochin China directly as a French colony; Annan and Tonkin were established as French "protectorates." Vietnam's emperors remained in place in Hue, but their authority was strictly limited as French officials assumed nearly all government functions. In the early 20th century, Vietnamese intellectuals, many of them French educated, organized nationalist and communist-nationalist anti-colonial movements.

Japan's military occupation of Vietnam during World War II further stirred nationalist sentiment, as well as antipathy toward the French Vichy colonial regime, which took its direction from the Japanese until the Japanese took direct control in March 1945. Vietnamese communists under Ho Chi Minh organized a coalition of anti-colonial groups, the Viet Minh, though many anti-communists refused to join. The Viet Minh took advantage of political uncertainty in the weeks following Japan's surrender to take control of Hanoi and much of northern Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh announced the independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam on September 2, 1945.

North and South Partition
France's determination to reassert colonial authority in Vietnam led to failed talks and, after armed hostilities broke out in Haiphong at the end of 1946, an 8-year guerrilla war between the communist-led Viet Minh on one side and the French and their anti-communist nationalist allies on the other. Following the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954, France and other parties, including Britain, China, the Soviet Union, the United States, and representatives of the Viet Minh and Bao Dai governments convened in Geneva, Switzerland for peace talks. On July 29, 1954, an Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities in Vietnam was signed between France and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The United States observed, but did not sign, the agreement. French colonial rule in Vietnam ended.

The 1954 Geneva agreement provided for a cease-fire between communist and anti-communist nationalist forces, the temporary division of Vietnam at approximately the 17th parallel, provisional northern (communist) and southern (noncommunist) zone governments, and the evacuation of anti-communist Vietnamese from northern to southern Vietnam, as well as the movement of a smaller number of former communist-led Viet Minh anti-colonial fighters to the north. The agreement also called for an election to be held by July 1956 to bring the two provisional zones under a unified government, a provision that the South Vietnamese Government refused to accept, arguing that conditions for free elections throughout Vietnam were not present. On October 26, 1955, South Vietnam declared itself the Republic of Vietnam.

After 1954, North Vietnamese communist leaders consolidated their power and instituted a harsh agrarian reform and socialization program. During this period, some 450,000 Vietnamese, including a large number of Vietnamese Catholics, fled from the north to the south, while a much smaller number, mostly consisting of former Viet Minh fighters, relocated north. In the late 1950s, North Vietnamese leaders reactivated the network of communist guerrillas that had remained behind in the south. These forces--commonly known as the Viet Cong--aided covertly by the north, started an armed campaign against officials and villagers who refused to support the communist reunification cause.

American Assistance to the South
In December 1961, at the request of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, President Kennedy sent U.S. military advisers to South Vietnam to help the government there deal with the Viet Cong campaign. In the wake of escalating political turmoil in the south after a November 1963 generals' coup against President Diem, which resulted in his death, the United States increased its military support for South Vietnam. In March 1965, President Johnson sent the first U.S. combat forces to Vietnam. The American military role peaked in 1969 with an in-country force of 534,000. Although the Viet Cong's surprise Tet Offensive in January 1968 failed militarily, it damaged American and South Vietnamese morale and brought into question--domestically--U.S. reports of successes prior to the offensive. In January 1969, the United States, governments of South and North Vietnam, and the Viet Cong met for the first plenary session of peace talks in Paris, France. These talks, which began with much hope, moved slowly. They finally concluded with the signing of a peace agreement, the Paris Accords, on January 27, 1973. The Accords called for a ceasefire in place in which North Vietnamese forces were permitted to remain in areas they controlled. Following the Accords, the South Vietnamese Government and the political representatives of the communist forces in the South, the Provisional Revolutionary Government, vied for control over portions of South Vietnam. The United States withdrew its forces, although reduced levels of U.S. military assistance continued, administered by the Defense Attaché Office.

Reunification
In early 1975, North Vietnamese regular military forces began a major offensive in the south, inflicting great damage to the south's forces. The communists took Saigon on April 30, 1975, and announced their intention to reunify the country. The Democratic Republic of Vietnam (north) absorbed the former Republic of Vietnam (south) to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on July 2, 1976.

After reunification, the government confiscated privately owned land and forced citizens to adopt collectivized agricultural practices. Hundreds of thousands of former South Vietnamese government and military officials, as well as intellectuals previously opposed to the communist cause, were sent to study socialist doctrine in re-education camps, where they remained for periods ranging from months to over 10 years.

Expectations that reunification of the country and its socialist transformation would be condoned by the international community were quickly dashed as many countries expressed concern over Vietnam's internal practices and foreign policy. Vietnam's 1978 invasion of Cambodia in particular, together with its increasingly tight alliance with the Soviet Union, appeared to confirm suspicions that Vietnam wanted to establish a Soviet-backed hegemony in Indochina.

Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia also heightened tensions that had been building between Vietnam and China. Beijing, which backed the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, retaliated in early 1979 by initiating a brief, but bloody border war with Vietnam.

Vietnam's tensions with its neighbors, internal repression, and a stagnant economy contributed to a massive exodus from Vietnam. Fearing persecution, many ethnic Chinese in particular fled Vietnam by boat to nearby countries. Later, hundreds of thousands of other Vietnamese nationals fled as well, seeking temporary refuge in camps throughout Southeast Asia.

The continuing grave condition of the economy and the alienation from the international community became focal points of party debate. In 1986, at the Sixth Party Congress, there was an important easing of communist agrarian and commercial policies.

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
A new state constitution was approved in April 1992, reaffirming the central role of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) in politics and society, and outlining government reorganization and increased economic freedom. Though Vietnam remains a one-party state, adherence to ideological orthodoxy has become less important than economic development as a national priority.

The most important powers within the Vietnamese Government--in addition to the Communist Party--are the executive agencies created by the 1992 constitution: the offices of the president and the prime minister. The Vietnamese President functions as head of state but also serves as the nominal commander of the armed forces and chairman of the Council on National Defense and Security. The Prime Minister of Vietnam heads a cabinet composed of deputy prime ministers and the heads of ministries and agencies, all confirmed by the National Assembly.

Notwithstanding the 1992 constitution's reaffirmation of the central role of the Communist Party, the National Assembly, according to the constitution, is the highest representative body of the people and the only organization with legislative powers. It has a broad mandate to oversee all government functions. Once seen as little more than a rubber stamp, the National Assembly has become more vocal and assertive in exercising its authority over lawmaking, particularly in recent years. However, the National Assembly is still subject to Communist Party direction. More than 90% of the deputies in the National Assembly are Communist Party members. The National Assembly meets twice yearly for 7-10 weeks each time; elections for members are held every 5 years, although its Standing Committee meets monthly and there are now over 140 "full-time" deputies who function on various committees. In 2007, the National Assembly introduced parliamentary "question time," in which cabinet ministers must answer often-pointed questions from National Assembly members. There is a separate judicial branch, but it is still relatively weak. There are few lawyers and trial procedures are rudimentary.

The Politburo, selected during the Party Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam and headed by the Communist Party General Secretary, determines government policy; its Secretariat oversees day-to-day policy implementation. In addition, the Communist Party's Central Military Commission, which is composed of select Politburo members and additional military leaders, determines military policy.

A Party Congress meets every 5 years to set the direction of the party and the government. The most recent Party Congress, the Eleventh, met in January 2011. The Central Committee is elected by the Party Congress and usually meets at least twice a year.

Principal Government Officials
President-- Truong Tan Sang
Prime Minister--Nguyen Tan Dung
National Assembly Chairman--Nguyen Sinh Hung
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Pham Binh Minh
Ambassador to the United States--Nguyen Quoc Cuong
Ambassador to the United Nations--Le Hoai Trung

Vietnam maintains an embassy in the U.S. at 1233 20th Street, NW, #400, Washington DC 20036 (tel. 202-861-0737; fax 202-861-0917); Internet home page: www.vietnamembassy-usa.org. There is a consulate general in San Francisco, located at 1700 California Street, Suite 430, San Francisco, CA 94109 (tel. 415-922-1707; fax 415-922-1848); Internet homepage: http://www.vietnamconsulate-sf.org. There also is a consulate general in Houston, located at 5251 Westheimer Rd, Suite 1100, Houston, Texas 77056 (tel. 713-850-1233; fax 713-810-0159); Internet homepage: http://vietnamconsulateinhouston.org.

ECONOMY
Following economic stagnation after reunification from 1975 to 1985, the 1986 Sixth Party Congress approved broad economic reforms (known as "Doi Moi," or "renovation") that introduced market reforms, opened up the country for foreign investment, and dramatically improved Vietnam's business climate. Vietnam became one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, averaging around 8% annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth from 1990 to 1997 and 6.5% from 1998-2003. GDP grew more than 8% annually from 2004 to 2007, slowed to 5.3% growth in 2009, recovered to 6.8% in 2010, and reached 5.8% over the first 9 months of 2011. Viewed over time, foreign trade and foreign direct investment (FDI) have improved significantly, although new registered FDI has started to trend downward. The average annual foreign investment commitment rose sharply after foreign investment was authorized in 1988, although the global economic crisis affected FDI in 2009. In the first 9 months of 2011, disbursed FDI capital totaled $9.1 billion, up 1% compared to the same period in 2010. Registered FDI (including new and additional capital) was $8.88 billion in the first 9 months of 2011, a fall of about 30% compared to the same period of 2010. From 1990 to 2011, agricultural production nearly doubled, transforming Vietnam from a net food importer to the world's second-largest exporter of rice. In the first 9 months of 2011, Vietnam’s exports ($70 billion) were up by 23% compared to the same period in 2010. Vietnam’s imports ($76.87 billion) were up by 27% from the same period in 2010, and the country was still running a structural trade deficit, reaching $6.87 billion in the first 9 months of 2011.

The shift away from a centrally planned economy to a more market-oriented economic model has improved the quality of life for many Vietnamese. Per capita income rose from $220 in 1994 to $1,168 in 2010. Year-on-year inflation, however, increased to 18.2% in the first 9 months of 2011, up from 8.6% in the same period of 2010. The Vietnamese Government was unable to reach its 2011 Consumer Price Index (CPI) target of 7%. The Vietnamese savings rate is about 25% of GDP. Official unemployment remains low, but does not reflect employment trends in the unofficial economy, which comprises over 70% of the total workforce. Unemployment was 2.2% in the first 9 months of 2011--a slight decline from 2.8% in 2010--with urban unemployment being higher (3.5% in the first 9 months of 2011, 4.4% in 2010) than rural (1.2% the first 9 months of 2011, 2.3% in 2010).

The Vietnamese Government still holds a tight rein over major sectors of the economy through large state-owned economic groups and enterprises. The government has plans to reform key sectors and partially privatize state-owned enterprises, but implementation has been gradual and the state sector still accounts for approximately 40% of GDP. Greater emphasis on private sector development is critical for job creation. In 2011, the Vietnamese Government proposed a strategy for restructuring the economy by 2015. The three pillars of the proposed strategy are improving public investment; reforming state-owned enterprises; and restructuring finance markets, focusing on the banking system.

The 2001 entry-into-force of the Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA) between the U.S. and Vietnam was a significant milestone for Vietnam's economy and for normalization of U.S.-Vietnam relations. Bilateral trade between the United States and Vietnam has expanded dramatically, rising from $2.97 billion in 2002 to $18.6 billion in 2010. The U.S. is Vietnam's second-largest trade partner overall (after China).

Implementation of the BTA, which includes provisions on trade in goods and services, enforcement of intellectual property rights, protection for investments, and transparency, fundamentally changed Vietnam's trade regime and helped it accede to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2007.

Vietnam was granted permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) status by the United States in December 2006. To meet the obligations of WTO membership, Vietnam revised nearly all of its trade and investment laws and guiding regulations and opened up large sectors of its economy to foreign investors and exporters.

A U.S.-Vietnam Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), a bridge to future economic cooperation, was signed in 2007 during President Nguyen Minh Triet's visit to the United States. The first TIFA Council occurred in December 2007 in Washington, and there have been frequent TIFA meetings and dialogues since then. During Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung's June 2008 visit, the United States and Vietnam committed to undertake Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) negotiations. Three rounds of talks were completed, but BIT talks have not resumed since Vietnam and the United States began negotiations on free trade in 2010.

Agriculture and Industry
As in the rest of Asia, farms in Vietnam tend to be very small, and are usually less than one hectare (2.5 acres) each. Rice and other farm outputs are quite profitable, on a per-kilogram basis, but the total income from these small operations is increasingly insufficient to cover daily household needs. Off-farm income is necessary, and growing in importance. Due to its high productivity, Vietnam is currently a net exporter of agricultural products. Besides rice, key exports are coffee (robusta), pepper (spice), cashews, tea, rubber, wood products, and fisheries products. In 2010, Vietnam was ranked 17 among all suppliers of food and agricultural products to the United States, a strong indicator of Vietnam’s growing importance as a global supplier of key agricultural commodities. Agriculture's share of economic output has declined, falling as a share of GDP from 42% in 1989 to 21% in 2010, as production in other sectors of the economy has risen.

Vietnam's industrial production has also grown. Industry and construction contributed 41% of GDP in 2010, up from 27.3% in 1985. Subsidies have been cut, though state enterprises still receive priority access to resources, including land and capital. The government is also continuing the slow process of "equitizing" a significant number of smaller state enterprises--transforming state enterprises into shareholding companies and distributing a portion of the shares to management, workers, and private foreign and domestic investors. However, to date the government continues to maintain control of the largest and most important companies.

Trade and Balance of Payments
To compensate for drastic cuts in Soviet-bloc support after 1989, Vietnam liberalized trade, devalued its currency to increase exports, and embarked on a policy of regional and international economic re-integration. Vietnam has demonstrated its commitment to trade liberalization in recent years, and integration with the world economy has become one of the cornerstones of its reform program. Vietnam has locked in its intention to create a more competitive and open economy by committing to several comprehensive international trade agreements, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Free Trade Area (AFTA) and the U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA). Vietnam's accession to the World Trade Organization further integrated Vietnam into the global economy. In November 2010, Vietnam officially joined negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement.

As a result of these reforms, exports expanded significantly, growing by as much as 20%-30% in some years. Exports accounted for about 70% of GDP in 2010. Imports have also grown rapidly, and Vietnam has maintained a structural trade deficit, reaching $12.4 billion in 2010. Vietnam's total external debt, amounting to 42.2% of GDP in 2010, was estimated at around $32.5 billion.

FOREIGN RELATIONS
During the second Indochina war (1954-75), North Vietnam sought to balance relations with its two major allies, the Soviet Union and China. Tensions with China began to grow during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and by 1975, Beijing had become increasingly critical of Hanoi's growing ties with Moscow. Over the next 4 years, Beijing's growing support for Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, which in 1978 initiated bloody attacks across its border with Vietnam, reinforced Vietnamese suspicions of China's motives.

Vietnam-China relations deteriorated significantly after Hanoi instituted a ban in March 1978 on private trade, which had a particularly large impact on southern Vietnam's ethnic Chinese community. Following Vietnam's December 1978 invasion of Cambodia and the expulsion of a significant number of Hoa (ethnic Chinese) from Vietnam, China in February 1979 launched a 3-week incursion over Vietnam's northern border. Faced with severance of Chinese aid and strained international relations, Vietnam established even closer ties with the Soviet Union and its allies in the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon). Through the 1980s, Vietnam received nearly $3 billion a year in economic and military aid from the Soviet Union and conducted most of its trade with that country and with other Comecon countries. However, Soviet and East bloc economic aid declined during the perestroika era and ceased completely after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Vietnam did not begin to emerge from international isolation until it withdrew its troops from Cambodia in 1989. Within months of the 1991 Paris Agreements, Vietnam established diplomatic and economic relations with ASEAN, as well as with most of the countries of Western Europe and Northeast Asia. China reestablished full diplomatic ties with Vietnam in 1991, and the two countries began joint efforts to demarcate their land and sea borders, expand trade and investment ties, and build political relations.

Over the past decades, Vietnam has recognized the increasing importance of growing global economic interdependence and has made concerted efforts to adjust its foreign relations to reflect the evolving international economic and political situation in Southeast Asia. The country has begun to integrate itself into the regional and global economy by joining international organizations. Vietnam has stepped up its efforts to attract foreign capital from the West and regularize relations with the world financial system. In the 1990s, following the lifting of the American veto on multilateral loans to the country, Vietnam became a member of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Asian Development Bank. The country has expanded trade with its East Asian neighbors as well as with countries in Western Europe and North America. Of particular significance was Vietnam's acceptance into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in July 1995. Vietnam's influence in ASEAN has expanded significantly; the country served as Chairman in 2010. Vietnam joined the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) in November 1998 and hosted summits for APEC in 2006 and ASEAN in 2010. In December 2009, Vietnam completed a 2-year term as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. At the Eleventh Party Congress in 2011, Communist Party leaders adopted a more internationally engaged foreign policy platform, which also called for a more government-wide approach to foreign policy, increasingly involving the Ministry of National Defense and Ministry of Public Security in the policy-making process.

While Vietnam has not experienced war since its withdrawal from Cambodia, tensions have periodically flared between Vietnam and China, primarily over boundary issues. While Vietnam and China were able to agree to land borders in 1999, overlapping maritime claims in the South China Sea continue to increase bilateral tensions. Vietnam and China each assert claims to the Spratly and Paracel Islands, archipelagos in the potentially oil-rich area of the South China Sea. Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, and Taiwan also claim all or part of the Spratly Islands. Over the years, conflicting claims have produced small-scale armed altercations in the area; in 1988, 70 Vietnamese sailors died in a confrontation with China in the Spratlys. China's assertion of "indisputable sovereignty" over the Spratly Islands and the entire South China Sea has elicited concern from Vietnam and its Southeast Asia neighbors. Tensions escalated in the latter half of 2007 as, according to press reports, China pressured foreign oil companies to abandon their oil and gas exploration contracts with Vietnam in the South China Sea. Vietnamese students staged several anti-China demonstrations in response, prompting a warning from the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman that Hanoi's failure to quell the demonstrations was harming relations. China's efforts in the summer of 2009 to strictly enforce its unilateral fishing ban in disputed waters led to the detention for several weeks of more than two dozen Vietnamese fishermen.

In contrast, Vietnam has made significant progress with China in delineating its northern land border and the Gulf of Tonkin, pursuant to a Land Border Agreement signed in December 1999, and an Agreement on Borders in the Gulf of Tonkin signed in December 2000. The two sides completed demarcation of their land border in December 2008 and have reached understanding on maritime boundaries in the mouth of the Tonkin Gulf.

U.S.-VIETNAM RELATIONS
President Bill Clinton announced the formal normalization of diplomatic relations with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on July 11, 1995. Subsequent to President Clinton's normalization announcement, in August 1995, both nations upgraded their Liaison Offices opened in January 1995 to embassy status. As diplomatic ties between the nations grew, the United States opened a consulate general in Ho Chi Minh City, and Vietnam opened a consulate general in San Francisco. In 2009, the United States received permission to open a consulate in Danang; in 2010, Vietnam officially inaugurated a consulate general in Houston.

U.S. relations with Vietnam have become increasingly cooperative and broad-based in the years since political normalization. A series of bilateral summits have helped drive the improvement of ties, including President George W. Bush's visit to Hanoi in November 2006, President Triet's visit to Washington in June 2007, Prime Minister Dung's visits to Washington in June 2008 and April 2010, and President Truong Tan Sang’s visit to Hawaii for APEC meetings in November 2011. The two countries hold an annual dialogue on human rights, which resumed in 2006 after a 2-year hiatus. Vietnam and the United States signed a Bilateral Trade Agreement in July 2000, which went into force in December 2001. In 2003, the two countries signed a Counternarcotics Letter of Agreement (amended in 2006), a Civil Aviation Agreement (amended in 2008), and a textile agreement. In December 2006 the United States granted permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) to Vietnam. In October 2008, the U.S. and Vietnam inaugurated annual political-military talks and policy planning talks to consult on regional security and strategic issues. In August 2010, the U.S. Department of Defense and Vietnam’s Ministry of Defense held the first round of annual high-level defense talks, known as the Defense Policy Dialogue. Bilateral and regional diplomatic engagement has expanded at ASEAN, which Vietnam chaired in 2010, and continues through APEC.

Vietnam's suppression of political dissent has continued to be a main issue of contention in relations with the United States, drawing criticism from successive administrations, as well as from members of Congress and the U.S. public. Within the previous 2 years, Vietnam's government has convicted more than 22 political dissidents, and has arrested an additional 15 others. The government has continued to further tighten controls over the Internet, press, and freedom of speech. Internet bloggers were also arrested, jailed, and convicted after writing about corruption, and protesting China's actions in the disputed Spratly and Paracel Islands and Chinese mining of bauxite in the central highlands.

In contrast, Vietnam has continued to make progress on expanding religious freedom, although significant issues remain. In 2005, Vietnam passed comprehensive religious freedom legislation, outlawing forced renunciations and permitting the official recognition of new denominations. Since that time, the government has granted official national recognition or registration to a number of new religions and religious groups, including eight more Protestant denominations, and has registered hundreds of local congregations particularly in the central highlands. As a result, in November 2006, the Department of State lifted the designation of Vietnam as a "Country of Particular Concern," based on a determination that the country was no longer a serious violator of religious freedoms, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act. The Department of State has reaffirmed this decision every year since then. Nevertheless, there is room for further progress. The government's slow pace of church registration, particularly in the northwest highlands, and harassment of certain religious leaders for their political activism, remain an ongoing source of U.S. concern.

As of November 2011, the U.S. Government listed 1,679 Americans unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, including 1,288 in Vietnam. Since 1973, 967 Americans have been accounted for, including 683 in Vietnam. Additionally, the Department of Defense has confirmed that of the 196 individuals who were "last known alive" (LKA) in Vietnam, the U.S. Government has determined the fate of all but 25. The Joint POW/MIA Accounting command (JPAC) conducts four major investigation and recovery periods a year in Vietnam, during which specially trained U.S. military and civilian personnel investigate and excavate hundreds of cases in pursuit of the fullest possible accounting. Unrestricting areas previously denied to JPAC personnel has been a recent highlight of cooperation by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, as was the first-ever turnover of POW/MIA-related artifacts from the Vietnam Military History Museum, apparently a reciprocal action in response to U.S. turnovers of Vietnamese war artifacts. In June 2009, a coastal search mission by the oceanographic survey ship USNS Heezen was the first of its kind, creating the potential to recover hundreds of underwater crash sites. The U.S. would still like to see the provision of archival documents related to U.S. losses along the wartime Ho Chi Minh Trail, as well as more openness in general with regard to Vietnam’s wartime archives. The United States considers achieving the fullest possible accounting of Americans missing and unaccounted for in Indochina to be one of its highest priorities with Vietnam.

Since entry into force of the U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement on December 10, 2001, increased trade between the U.S. and Vietnam, combined with large-scale U.S. investment in Vietnam, evidence the maturing U.S.-Vietnam economic relationship. In 2010, the United States exported $3.7 billion in goods to Vietnam and imported $14.9 billion in goods from Vietnam. Similarly, U.S. companies continue to invest directly in the Vietnamese economy. During 2009, the U.S. private sector committed $9.8 billion to Vietnam in foreign direct investment. Another sign of the expanding bilateral relationship is the signing of a Bilateral Air Transport Agreement in December 2003. Several U.S. carriers already have third-party code sharing agreements with Vietnam Airlines. Direct flights between Ho Chi Minh City and San Francisco began in December 2004. The Bilateral Air Transport Agreement was amended in October 2008 to fully open markets for cargo air transportation. Vietnam and the United States also signed a Bilateral Maritime Agreement in March 2007 that opened the maritime transport and services industry of Vietnam to U.S. firms.

Vietnam remains heavily contaminated by explosive remnants of war, primarily in the form of unexploded ordnance (UXO) including extensive contamination by cluster munitions dating from the war with the United States. The United States is the largest single donor to UXO/mine action. The Department of State continues to assist Vietnam in detecting and clearing unexploded ordnance, educating the public on the risks of UXO, and providing assistance to the victims of UXO. Since 1993, U.S. has contributed over $62 million in UXO clearance, risk education, and victims’ assistance programs and support for persons with disabilities, regardless of cause.

While legacy issues such as UXO/demining, MIA accounting, and Agent Orange provided the foundations for the U.S.-Vietnam defense relationship, mutual interest in addressing the challenges of humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, search and rescue, and maritime security have allowed the defense relationship to accelerate in the past 3 years, with Vietnam participating in U.S.-provided capacity-building training in these areas. Many of these topics are discussed in annual bilateral defense discussions. In August 2010, a delegation of senior Vietnamese civilian and military officials participated in a fly-out to the USS George Washington in international waters off the coast of Vietnam just prior to the USS John S. McCain visit to Danang, Vietnam. In July 2011 another delegation of government and military officials participated in a fly-out and tour aboard the USS George Washington.

Two years after its first visit to Vietnam, the hospital ship USNS Mercy paid a port call to Quy Nhon in June 2010, where it provided medical and dental treatment to thousands; the USNS Mercy's June 2008 visit to Nha Trang reached over 11,000 Vietnamese patients. Other U.S. Navy visits in 2011 included the first U.S. military ship visit to Cam Ranh Bay in over three decades, when the USNS Richard E. Byrd entered the port for maintenance and repair in August 2011; the USNS Diehl followed for routine maintenance and repair in October. Vietnam continues to observe multinational exercises such as the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) organized by the U.S. Pacific Fleet and the yearly GPOI CAPSTONE exercise organized by the U.S. Pacific Command. An active partner in nonproliferation regimes, Vietnam also takes full advantage of expertise, equipment, and training available under the Export Control and Related Border Security (EXBS) program. With the support of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Megaports Initiative, Vietnam is installing radiation detection equipment to help it detect and identify weapons of mass destruction and their components at the commercial port of Cai Mep-Vung Tau. Vietnam agreed in 2010 to join the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, and Prime Minister Dung was an active participant in President Barack Obama's April 2010 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

COMPANY WILL PAY $1 MILLION TO SETTLE ALLEGED TRADE AGREEMENT ACT VIOLATIONS


FROM: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
Monday, July 9, 2012
Telecommunications Firm to Pay Us $1 Million to Settle Alleged Violations of the Trade Agreements Act.

ADC Telecommunications Inc. will pay the United States $1 million to resolve allegations that the company submitted false claims to federal agencies when it sold telecommunications goods manufactured in countries prohibited by the Trade Agreements Act (TAA).  

From October 2005 through December 2008, ADC manufactured and sold telecommunications hardware, such as communication modems, extender modules and shelf adapters to various federal agencies through its General Services Administration (GSA) Multiple Award Schedule contract.   This settlement resolves allegations disclosed by the company that it knowingly manufactured and sold products from countries such as China that do not have reciprocal trade agreements with the United States and are not on the list of designated countries.   The client government agencies included a number of federal agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Interior.
Compliance with the TAA is required by GSA Multiple Award Schedule

contracts.   Goods purchased under these contracts must be manufactured in one of a list of designated countries deemed to trade fairly with the United States.

“Protecting the federal procurement process is central to the mission of the Department of Justice,” said Stuart Delery, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Civil Division.   “It is incumbent upon contractors that supply products to federal agencies to abide by the legal requirements designed to protect U.S. trade interests.”

“This settlement demonstrates this office’s commitment to ensure that products sold to the government are made in countries that respect and adhere to our nation’s trade policies,” said Ronald C. Machen Jr., the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.   “We expect all companies who do business with the United States to understand and comply with the laws that govern their transactions.”

GSA Inspector General Brian Miller stated “We appreciate ADC's cooperation in the OIG’s investigation of this matter.”

This matter was jointly handled by the GSA Office of the Inspector General, the Justice Department’s Civil Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

TWO PERSONS SENTENCED FOR PARTS IN $2.3 MILLION KICKBACK SCHEME


FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Two Individuals Sentenced to Prison for Participating in Kickback Scheme at New York Presbyterian Hospital A Pennsylvania Company and Two New York Companies Sentenced to Pay a Total of $3 Million in Criminal Fines
WASHINGTON — Two individuals and three corporations were sentenced in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan by Judge George B. Daniels today to serve time in prison and to pay criminal fines for their participation in an eight-year conspiracy involving kickbacks in excess of $2.3 million to defraud New York Presbyterian Hospital (NYPH), the Department of Justice announced. The individuals and the corporations were convicted after a four-week trial in February 2012.

Michael Yaron, the owner of two of the companies convicted for their roles in the conspiracy—Cambridge Environmental & Construction Corp, doing business as National Environmental Associates (Cambridge/NEA) and Oxford Construction & Development Corp.—was sentenced to serve 60 months in jail, and to pay a $500,000 criminal fine.  Cambridge/NEA and Oxford Construction were each sentenced to pay a $1 million criminal fine.

Moshe Buchnik, the president of an asbestos abatement company that also did business at NYPH, was sentenced to serve 48 months in jail, and to pay a $500,000 criminal fine for his role in the conspiracy.

Artech Corp., a company owned by a relative of Santo Saglimbeni, a former vice president of facilities operations at NYPH, was also sentenced to pay a $1 million criminal fine.

Two additional charged co-conspirators, Saglimbeni and Emilio “Tony” Figueroa, a former director of facilities operations at NYPH, who were convicted along with Yaron, Buchnick, Cambridge/NEA, Oxford Construction and Artech, are scheduled to appear in court on July 31, 2012.

“The sentences imposed today are consistent with the seriousness of the crimes for which the individuals and companies were found guilty,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Joseph Wayland in charge of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.  “Today’s sentences hold accountable the unlawful conduct of those involved in illegal kickback conspiracies.”

The department said the scheme to defraud NYPH centered on Saglimbeni, who with the assistance of Figueroa, awarded asbestos abatement, air monitoring and general construction contracts to Yaron, Buchnik and their companies in return for more than $2.3 million in kickbacks. The kickbacks were funneled by Yaron to Saglimbeni through Artech Corp., a sham company Saglimbeni created in his mother’s name in order to conceal the kickbacks.

Yaron, Buchnik, Saglimbeni, Figueroa, Cambridge/NEA, Oxford Construction and Artech, were each convicted of conspiracy to defraud NYPH.  Additionally, Yaron, his companies, Buchnik, Saglimbeni and Artech were also convicted of a substantive wire fraud violation.
 
The sentences announced today resulted from a federal antitrust investigation of bid rigging, fraud, bribery and tax-related offenses in the award of construction, maintenance and service contracts to the facilities operations department of NYPH.  Including today’s sentencings, 14 individuals and six companies have been convicted of or pleaded guilty to charges arising out of this investigation.

TEMPORARY FOREIGN WORKERS RECEIVE $2.3 MILLION IN BACK WAGES


FROM:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
US Department of Labor reaches agreement resulting in more than $2.3 million in back wages to temporary foreign agricultural workers
Agreement provides record back wage amount for H-2A program, plus $500,000 penalty
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Yerington, Nev.-based onion grower Peri & Sons has agreed to pay a record total of $2,338,700 in back wages to 1,365 workers, along with a civil money penalty of $500,000, for violations under the H-2A program.
U.S. Department of Labor Administrative Law Judge Steven Berlin in San Francisco signed the order granting the consent findings.

“We are pleased to have reached this record agreement to pay workers the wages and expenses they are due,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “In order for the H-2A program to operate as intended, all employers must comply with the law.”
An investigation by the department’s Wage and Hour Division determined that workers employed by Peri & Sons involved in irrigation, as well as harvesting, packing and shipping onions sold in grocery stores nationwide, were not paid properly for work performed. All of the workers came to the U.S. from Mexico under the H-2A temporary agricultural worker visa program. In most cases, their earnings fell below the hourly wage required by the program, as well as below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for a brief period of time. Investigators also found that workers were not paid for time spent in mandatory pesticide training or reimbursed for subsistence expenses while traveling to and from the U.S. Additionally, their return transportation costs at the end of the contract period were not paid, as was required.

The H-2A temporary agricultural worker program establishes a means for employers who anticipate a shortage of domestic workers to bring nonimmigrant foreign workers to the United States to perform temporary or seasonal agricultural work. The employer must file an application stating that a sufficient number of domestic workers are not available and the employment of these workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed workers in the U.S. Employers using the H-2A program must meet a number of specific conditions relating to recruitment, wages, housing, meals and transportation.

U.S.-GUYANA RELATIONS


Map Credit:  U.S. State Department/CIA
FROM:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
U.S. Relations With Guyana
Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Fact Sheet
July 9, 2012 
U.S. policy toward Guyana seeks to develop robust, sustainable democratic institutions, laws, and political practices; support economic growth and development; promote an active, organized, and empowered civil society; and promote stability and security. Beginning in the late 1980s, Guyana sought to improve relations with the United States as part of a decision to shift toward political nonalignment, moving from state socialism and one-party control to a market economy and greater freedom of the press and assembly. This shift, recent free and fair democratic elections, closer security cooperation, and expanding trade and investment have helped place U.S.-Guyanese relations on an excellent footing.

The United States values Guyana's partnership and cooperation on issues of mutual interest. Together, the two countries promote democracy and respect for human rights; empower youth, women, the private sector, and civic/opinion leaders to formulate grassroots responses to social and economic challenges; support new initiatives to improve the health of the Guyanese people; and, through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, enhance the security and prosperity of the region.

U.S. Assistance to Guyana
Working together through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), the United States and Guyana, along with other nations of the Caribbean, are combating drug trafficking and other transnational crimes that threaten regional security. The United States also works closely with Guyana in the fight against HIV/AIDS through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program. U.S. agencies, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), are administering a multi-million dollar program of education, prevention, and treatment for those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, and contributing to the country’s health care capacity. USAID also supports an activity designed to strengthen political processes and institutions. The Public Affairs Section is developing people-to-people ties through exchange programs and by supporting meaningful discourse and programs with civil society, the private sector, and government on issues of bilateral importance. U.S. military medical and engineering teams continue to conduct training exercises in Guyana, digging wells, building schools and clinics, and providing medical treatment.

Bilateral Economic Relations
Guyana’s 2011 nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was USD 1.9 billion, and with an estimated population of 751,000 people, its per capita GDP was USD 2,500. In 2011, the service sector, led by construction services, contributed to 65 percent of the GDP, followed by the agricultural and mining sectors which contributed 23 percent and 10 percent respectively. The manufacturing sector accounted for 4 percent of the GDP.

Guyana’s leading export goods in 2011 were gold, rice, and bauxite which accounted for 45 percent, 15 percent and 11 percent of export earnings respectively. Sugar accounted for 11 percent of total export earnings. In 2011, Guyana's exports to all countries were $1.128 billion and its imports were $1.747 billion. Guyana traded more with the United States in 2011 than with any other country, exporting $424.5 million of goods to the U.S. while importing $363.6 million of U.S. goods. Guyanese products such as apparel knit with U.S.-made material, sugar, seafood, fruit, and other agricultural products enjoy duty-free access to the U.S. market under the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act, which has been extended to 2020.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has identified the Guyana Suriname basin as having the second highest resource potential among unexplored oil basins in the world and estimates mean recoverable oil reserves of 15 billion barrels of oil and gas reserves of 42 trillion cubic feet. Under the Energy Governance and Capacity Initiative (EGCI), the United Stated Government provides a range of technical and capacity building assistance as Guyana seeks to develop financial and regulatory regimes and address capacity issues that would maximize the development potential from prospective offshore oil and gas resources.

Guyana's Membership in International Organizations
Following its independence from the United Kingdom in 1966, Guyana sought an influential role in international affairs, particularly among developing countries and nonaligned nations. Guyana and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, Organization of American States, and International Monetary Fund. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat is headquartered in Guyana.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER SPEAKS AT NAACP ANNUAL CONVENTION


FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at the NAACP Annual Convention Houston ~ Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Thank you, Leon, for those kind words – and thank you all for such a warm welcome.   It’s a privilege – and a sincere pleasure – to be with you; to be part another important NAACP gathering; and to share the stage with so many good friends, dedicated partners, and indispensible leaders.

I also want to thank President Jealous, Chairman Brock, General Counsel Keenan, and the NAACP’s National Board of Directors for inviting me to join you.   It’s nice to be out of Washington today.    And it’s an honor to bring greetings from President Obama, from my fellow members of his Cabinet, and from my colleagues across the United States Department of Justice.

I’m also grateful for this chance to salute the essential work that you are doing – here in the great state of Texas and all across the country – to bring our nation together, and to bring attention to the problems we must solve, the wrongs we must right, the divisions we must heal, and the future we must build.   For more than a century, the NAACP’s leaders, members, and supporters have been defined and distinguished by your unyielding determination to do what you believe is right.   And I want to tell you how much I appreciate, and am inspired by, the example of strength that this organization continues to provide for our nation – and for me personally.

This convention is focused on issues of real consequence – issues that directly affect people’s lives and influence our nation’s course.   So, today – like all of you – I’d like to focus on the future.   And I want to discuss some of the ways we must continue to build upon the social, political, economic, educational, and legal progress that this organization – and generations of like-minded civil rights pioneers, activists, advocates, and champions – have struggled and sacrificed to bring about.

Today’s gathering presents an important opportunity to celebrate, and give thanks for, the visionary leaders – from W.E.B. DuBois and Ida B. Wells, to Charles Hamilton Houston, Walter White, Roy Wilkins, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., our dear friend John Payton, and Clarence Mitchell, Jr. – whose memory many of you gathered to honor yesterday, and whose critical work – as the NAACP’s Chief Advocate in Washington – is being carried on today, with a renewed spirit and dedication, by Hilary Shelton.   This is a critical moment for each of us – not only to lift up their legacies, but to take up the work that became the cause of their lives.   And it’s a chance to recommit ourselves, in this hour of need, to the effort that now constitutes our sacred charge, our solemn obligation, and our breathtaking opportunity.

Every one of us has the ability – and, I believe, the responsibility – to continue the work that has driven the NAACP’s record of achievement.   In short, it is time – yet again – to put our energy and skills to good use – in advocating for the most vulnerable members of society; in protecting the liberty – and the sacred rights – of every single person in this country; in safeguarding the basic infrastructure of our democracy; in ensuring economic and educational opportunities for all of our countrymen – and women; and in carrying forward the fundamental and inclusive ideals upon which this country was founded, and which continue to drive our pursuit of a more perfect Union.

These were the values that a group of patriots first seized upon 236 years ago last week, when they gathered in Philadelphia to draft a declaration that shook the foundations of an empire and set in motion the great American experiment with which we are entrusted today.   They are the principles that another generation fought and died to extend, less than a hundred years later, with the abolition of slavery in the aftermath of a terrible Civil War that remade our nation; and the ratification – exactly 144 years ago this week – of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which finally ensured due process, equal protection, and – for the first time – the full rights of citizenship for the African-American people who helped to build this nation and their heirs.   Even within our own lifetimes, these are the essential ideals that have driven great leaders and ordinary citizens alike to stand up, to march forward, to reach out a hand, or simply to take a seat – at a lunch counter or the front of a bus, in a classroom or a courthouse – in order to bring about transformative, once-unimaginable progress.

One of these people was a brave young woman who – in her desire to attend her state’s public university, had to march past a defiant Governor George Wallace to integrate the University of Alabama.  I am proud to say that this courageous young student, Vivian Malone, would later become my sister in law.   In her pursuit of the educational opportunity she deserved, Vivian was represented by the legendary civil rights attorney – and former NAACP counsel – Fred Gray.   With his assistance – and with support from organizations like yours, and with the backing of the Justice Department I now have the privilege to lead, Vivian was able to open new doors of opportunity.   And, although she is no longer with us, her legacy continues to teach and inspire us.

If she were here with us this afternoon, I’m certain that Vivian would be proud to help celebrate how far our nation has traveled on the road to equality in the decades since she took her rightful place in that university classroom.   But she’d also be the first to remind us that we still have much more to do; and that, despite the advances we’ve seen – and the fact that a direct beneficiary of the civil rights movement now sits in the Oval Office, and another has the honor of addressing you today as the 82nd Attorney General of the United States – our nation’s long struggle for freedom and fairness is far from over.   In fact, much of the hardest work remains unfinished.   And, for all the successes we’ve enjoyed and the milestones we’ve celebrated – today, in 2012 – we cannot, and we must not, ignore the fact that there are still neighborhoods in America’s most vibrant cities where too many kids go to prison, and too few to college; where our young people are involved in, and become victims of, violence; and where the doors to education and opportunity still seem closed.   And there is too little outrage, and not nearly enough action, in response to the fact that – nationwide – homicide is the leading cause of death for black men between the ages of 15 and 24; and that more than 60 percent of young people of all races are exposed to violence at some point in their lives, either as victims or as witnesses – which can have devastating, long-term consequences that last well into adulthood.

This is unacceptable.  And it’s why the leadership of organizations like the NAACP – and the engagement of activists throughout Texas and across the country – remains as vital as ever.   It’s also why, under the Obama Administration, today’s Justice Department has made an unprecedented commitment to protecting the safety – and potential – of our children.

Through our landmark Defending Childhood Initiative and our National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, we’re developing strategies for reducing violence and countering its negative impact.   I’m especially proud that, for the first time in history, the Department is now directing significant resources for the express purpose of addressing childhood exposure to violence, raising awareness of its ramifications, and advancing scientific inquiry on its causes and characteristics.  We’re working closely with other federal agencies, educators, and state and local partners across the country to disrupt the “school to prison pipeline” that transforms too many of our schools from doorways to opportunity into gateways to the correctional system.  And this is only the beginning.

At every level of this Administration, we’re working in new ways – and with a range of partners – to achieve fairness and expand opportunity – from successfully advocating for the reduction of the unjust 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses, to launching a new emphasis on re-entry programs to ensure the successful reintegration into society of those who have become involved in the criminal justice system.  Through the Justice Department’s new Access to Justice Office, we’re fighting to expand the availability of desperately needed legal services, and to advance pro bono initiatives – in both the public and private sectors – that can help provide representation for those who can’t afford it.   And, by any measure, our determination to build on these efforts – particularly through the work of the Department’s Civil Rights Division – has, quite simply, never been stronger.

As Attorney General, I am often mindful of the fact that I have the great privilege – and the solemn duty – of overseeing the enforcement of many of the laws and reforms that the NAACP fought so hard to enact.  I take this obligation seriously.   It is at the forefront of all I do as Attorney General.   For the Department I lead – and our allies across the country – this work is a top priority.  And our approach has never been more effective.

Over the past three years, the Civil Rights Division has filed more criminal civil rights cases than ever before, including record numbers of police misconduct, hate crimes, and human trafficking cases.  We’ve moved aggressively to combat continuing racial segregation in our schools – and to eliminate discriminatory practices in our housing and lending markets, where we recently achieved the largest residential fair lending settlement in American history.  We’ve also worked to eliminate bias, combat intimidation, and ensure nothing but the highest standards of integrity and professionalism across our nation’s law enforcement community.   And – alongside state, local, tribal, and international authorities – we’ve reinvigorated sweeping efforts to ensure that, in our workplaces and military bases; in our classrooms and places of worship; in our immigrant communities and our voting booths – the rights of all Americans are protected.

Nowhere is this clearer than in our work to combat hate crimes, and to bring those who commit these vicious acts to justice.  Over the past three years, the Justice Department prosecuted 35 percent more hate crime cases than during the preceding three-year period.  We’ve moved vigorously to enforce the landmark Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act – which the NAACP strongly supported, and which President Obama signed into law in 2009.        And we’re working to bring together a range of allies and partners to help strengthen our collaborative efforts to make good on the promise of equal justice – and the protections of our legal system – in every sector of society.

At a fundamental level, this is the same commitment that has driven us to expand access to, and prevent discrimination in, America’s elections systems.   And in jurisdictions across the country, it has compelled the Civil Right’s Division’s Voting Section to take meaningful steps to ensure integrity, independence, and transparency in our enforcement of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – a law that the NAACP was instrumental in advancing.

Especially in recent months, Texas has – in many ways – been at the center of our national debate about voting rights issues.   And I know many of you have been on the front lines of this fight.   Here – as in a number of jurisdictions across the country – the Justice Department has initiated careful, thorough, and independent reviews of proposed voting changes – including redistricting plans, early voting procedures, photo identification requirements, and changes affecting third party registration organizations – in order to guard against disenfranchisement, and to help ensure that none of these proposals would have a discriminatory purpose or effect.

And, as many of you know, yesterday was the first day of trial in a case that th e State of Texas filed against the Justice Department, under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, seeking approval of its proposed voter ID law.   After close review, the Department found that this law would be harmful to minority voters – and we rejected its implementation.

Under the proposed law, concealed handgun licenses would be acceptable forms of photo ID – but student IDs would not.   Many of those without IDs would have to travel great distances to get them – and some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them.  Since the passage of this law, the NAACP and other leading civil rights organizations have been spearheading critical efforts to protect the rights of minority voters in this and other states.  And a growing number of you are working to raise awareness about the potential impact of this and other similar laws – and the fact that – according to some recent studies – nationally, only 8% of white voting age citizens, while 25% of African-American voting age citizens, lack a government-issued photo ID.   In our efforts to protect voting rights and to prevent voting fraud, we will be vigilant and strong.   But let me be clear:  we will not allow political pretexts to disenfranchise American citizens of their most precious right.

Now, I can’t predict the future.   And I don’t know what will happen as this case moves forward.  But I can assure you that the Justice Department’s efforts to uphold and enforce voting rights will remain aggressive.   And I have every expectation that we’ll continue to be effective.   The arc of American history has always moved toward expanding the electorate.   It is what has made this nation exceptional.   We will simply not allow this era to be the beginning of the reversal of that historic progress.

For this and other reasons, I am confident about where this work will lead us – and the progress that passionate advocates like all of you will continue to make possible.  And as we carry these efforts into the future, there’s no question that we’ll keep relying on organizations like the NAACP to help extend essential protections – and to encourage broad-based engagement – on a host of other issues of national concern.

I’m sure that, like millions of others across the country, you were closely following last month’s decisions by the Supreme Court – to strike down major provisions of an Arizona law that would have effectively criminalized unlawful status, and to uphold essential components of the Affordable Care Act.   As President Jealous and Chairman Brock noted, these monumental rulings constituted an important step forward – providing a clear and final decision on a landmark health care law that will offer desperately needed help to millions of Americans, and – in the Arizona decision – confirming the federal government’s exclusive authority to regulate on immigration issues, so that our nation speaks with one voice in this important area.

I’m pleased that, in both cases, the Court broadly affirmed the government’s position as argued by the Justice Department.   However, I remain concerned about the practical impact of the remaining provision of the Arizona law that requires local law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone they even suspect to be here illegally. No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like.   Going forward, we must ensure that Arizona law enforcement officials do not enforce this law in a manner that undermines the civil rights of Americans.   In this work, I can assure you that the Department of Justice will continue to be vigilant.

At the same time, I recognize that the Justice Department will never be able to do it all – and that it simply won’t be possible for government to make all of the progress we need, and that the American people deserve, on our own.

So, this afternoon, as we come together to celebrate the power of individual voices, and the strength of collective action – we must also take stock of what’s left to do, and reflect on the responsibilities that each one of us shares – to ourselves, to those whose memories we honor this week, and – of course – to our children.   Although the direction we must take is clear, the road ahead is far from certain.   Significant obstacles and unprecedented threats remain to be confronted.   And overcoming these challenges is sure to be anything but easy.

But I firmly believe that – if the leaders in this room heed the lessons of our past and follow the examples of our predecessors; if we keep faith in one another, and in our democratic institutions; and if we rededicate ourselves to the essential work of helping freedom grow, and extending the blessings of our Constitution to all men and women – there is no limit to the progress we can make, or the distance we must – and will – travel together in the days ahead.

Once again, thank you for your commitment to – and leadership of – this work.   May God continue to bless our journey.  And may God continue to bless the United States of America.

CONNECTICUT MAN MISAPPROPRIATED MONEY FROM ELDERLY, ILL


FROM:  U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
July 9, 2012
Final Judgment Entered Against Connecticut Man Who Misappropriated Over $1 Million From Vulnerable Investors
The Securities and Exchange Commission (“Commission”) announced that, on July 5, 2012, the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut entered a final judgment by default against Florin S. Ilovici, formerly of Avon, Connecticut. The Commission’s action against Ilovici was originally filed in June 2011 and charged that, starting as early as 2008, Ilovici made material misrepresentations in raising over $1 million in investment funds from at least two elderly Connecticut women who lived alone, had little or no family, and had health problems. The complaint alleged that, instead of investing these funds on their behalf as he promised, Ilovici transferred the investor funds to his personal bank and brokerage accounts where he either lost the funds in risky securities or foreign currency exchange trading or used the funds for personal expenses, including mortgage and credit card payments, travel, and home improvements, all without the knowledge or authorization of his investors. The complaint alleged that Ilovici’s conduct violated Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 thereunder.

The final judgment entered by the Court came in response to a Commission motion for default judgment and permanently enjoined Ilovici from violating Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 thereunder. The final judgment also ordered Ilovici to pay disgorgement in the amount of $1,094,984.52, representing profits gained as a result of the conduct alleged in the complaint, plus pre-judgment interest on the disgorgement in the amount of $54,935.50, and a civil penalty in the amount of $900,000.00. The complaint also named Ilovici’s wife, Diana Ilovici, as a relief defendant, as to whom the judgment requires a payment of $30,196.93 in unjust enrichment because she received proceeds of the conduct alleged in the complaint.

SUPERNOVA SHOCK-WAVE


FROM:  NASA
Using observations from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, researchers have obtained the first X-ray evidence of a supernova shock wave breaking through a cocoon of gas surrounding the star that exploded. This discovery may help astronomers understand why some supernovas are much more powerful than others. On Nov. 3, 2010, a supernova was discovered in the galaxy UGC 5189A, located about 160 million light years away. Using data from the All Sky Automated Survey telescope in Hawaii taken earlier, astronomers determined this supernova exploded in early October 2010. This composite image of UGC 5189A shows X-ray data from Chandra in purple and optical data from Hubble Space Telescope in red, green and blue. SN 2010jl is the very bright X-ray source near the top of the galaxy. A team of researchers used Chandra to observe this supernova in December 2010 and again in October 2011. The supernova was one of the most luminous that has ever been detected in X-rays. In the first Chandra observation of SN 2010jl, the X-rays from the explosion's blast wave were strongly absorbed by a cocoon of dense gas around the supernova. This cocoon was formed by gas blown away from the massive star before it exploded. In the second observation taken almost a year later, there is much less absorption of X-ray emission, indicating that the blast wave from the explosion has broken out of the surrounding cocoon. The Chandra data show that the gas emitting the X-rays has a very high temperature -- greater than 100 million degrees Kelvin – strong evidence that it has been heated by the supernova blast wave. In a rare example of a cosmic coincidence, analysis of the X-rays from the supernova shows that there is a second unrelated source at almost the same location as the supernova. These two sources strongly overlap one another as seen on the sky. This second source is likely to be an ultraluminous X-ray source, possibly containing an unusually heavy stellar-mass black hole, or an intermediate mass black hole. Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Royal Military College of Canada/P.Chandra et al); Optical: NASA/STScI

ISAF NEWS FROM AFGHANISTAN JULY 10, 2012


Photo:  Security Forces On Watch In Afghanistan.  From:  U.S. Air Force. 
FROM:  AMERICAN FORCES PRESS SERVICE
Combined Force Kills Several Insurgents
Compiled from International Security Assistance Force Joint Command News Releases
WASHINGTON, July 10, 2012 - An Afghan and coalition security force killed several insurgents during a search for the leader of a Taliban attack cell in the Chimtal district of Afghanistan's Balkh province today, military officials reported.

During the operation, a group of insurgents attacked the combined force, officials said. The force returned fire, killing all of the attackers. As the force continued its mission, another armed individual approached and threatened the force, officials said. The armed insurgent was killed by the security force.
Officials said the operation also resulted in the detention of a suspected insurgent and the seizure of multiple weapons.

In operations yesterday:
-- A combined force in the Imam Sahib district of Kunduz province detained a Taliban military chief who specialized in planning and carrying out improvised explosive device and suicide attacks.
-- A coalition airstrike killed an insurgent in Ghazni province's Muqer district.
-- A combined force found and cleared an IED in Ghazni's Giro district.
-- Combined forces killed three insurgents in a firefight, killed four other insurgents during an airstrike, and detained a suspect during separate operations in Ghazni's Ab Band district.
-- A combined force detained an insurgent in Ghazni's Waghaz district.
-- A combined force found and cleared an IED in Ghazni's Qarah Bagh district.
-- In the Barak district of Logar province, a combined force found and cleared two IEDs.
-- A combined force found and cleared an IED in Nangarhar province's Pachir Wa Agam district.
-- In Nangarhar's Nazyan district, a combined force found and cleared an IED.
-- A combined force detained an insurgent in Wardak province's Sayyidabad district.
In a July 7 operation, a combined force detained two Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leaders and two other suspects in the Kunduz district of Kunduz province. The detained IMU leaders were directly involved in the construction of IEDs and their use in insurgent attacks. Both leaders are associated with senior IMU leadership and participated in high-profile suicide attack planning, including a failed attack in January, officials said.

VOLUNTEERS WORK TO KEEP-UP ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETARY


FROM:  AMERICAN FORCES PRESS SERVICE
Volunteers plant milkweed to attract Monarch butterfly larvae at Arlington National Cemetery, during the 16th annual Renewal and Remembrance Volunteer Day of Service at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., July 9, 2012. DOD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.  
Landscapers 'Give Back' to Vets, Fallen at Arlington
By Terri Moon Cronk
ARLINGTON, Va. , July 9, 2012 - More than 400 volunteers from children to adults descended on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery today for the 16th annual Renewal and Remembrance, to honor the nation's veterans and fallen service members by sprucing up the landmark's grounds.

Members of PLANET – the nonprofit Professional Landcare Network -- brought out 82 professional lawn care and landscape companies from around the country for this year's Renewal and Remembrance. They lent their hands and donated materials and equipment to mulch, prune, aerate, irrigate, plant, spread lime, and cable some of the trees for lightning protection on 150 of the cemetery's more than 560 acres.

Since the annual Renewal and Remembrance landscaping event began, more than $2 million has been contributed to the care of the national cemetery, according to a PLANET news release.

The cemetery's 8,400 trees are maintained on a four-year pruning cycle. Some are more than 200 years old, cemetery officials said.

John Gibson of Swingle Lawn, Tree and Landscape Care traveled from Denver with his daughters Taylor, 17, and Marissa, 15, to join a six-person crew that spread 400 bags of lime to balance the soil's nutritional levels. This is his twelfth year of working with Renewal and Remembrance at the cemetery, and his daughters' first, he said.
"The very first year," John Gibson said, "I realized what an impact it would make on those people who made an impact for us. It's pretty emotional every year to have a chance to give back. All we do is lawn and tree care, and these guys [sacrificed their lives] for us."
"It's nice to give back to the people who gave everything," Taylor Gibson said, adding that she and her sister would come back next year.

About 25 of the volunteers' children, ranging in age from 3 to 12, pitched in on the beautification project. But before they planted milkweed, they received a lesson in the importance of how the plants attract the caterpillars of the endangered and migratory Monarch butterfly, and how the caterpillars feed only on that particular plant.
Former Navy officer Roger Phelps, promotional communications manager for Stihl equipment, has worked with the children at Arlington's Renewal and Remembrance for 10 years.

"It's my passion," Phelps said of his work with the project. "These kids are our future, and creating this experience is important."

And volunteers bringing their children, he added, is especially meaningful.
"It's so important, because we live in sort of a virtual world," he said. "These kids are different. They live in a real world. They get their hands dirty, they put the plants in the ground [and] see the roots in the dirt."

Phelps said many of the children return from year to year and see the fruits of their labor as the vegetation they planted grows and matures.

"We take the kids around to all the different areas they've worked on over the years, so they can point to the things they've worked on and planted," he said. "The opportunity for us is to give them an understanding of what it means to serve, and what service means. What they learn here is by working with the plants, they have an opportunity to serve the families and visitors by creating an environment that is pleasant and respectful."
The significance of the children volunteering goes beyond planting foliage, Phelps said.
"We live in a generation that's getting a little separated from what it means to serve in the military," he said. "So these kids learn that at the same time."

Phelps related the story of a young girl who once asked her father if all the headstones were people. "He had the opportunity to explain to her what this place means," he said.
Phelps, a former Navy lieutenant commander, said Arlington National Cemetery is a special place to him.

"I've got some shipmates and friends in here," he said, adding that many of the landscape volunteers also know someone who is buried at the national cemetery. "It's a personal thing, too."

U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT FACT SHEET ON TERRORISM DESIGNATIONS


FROM:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Terrorism Designations FAQs
Fact Sheet Office of the Spokesperson Washington, DC
July 10, 2012
1. What are the different types of terrorism designations for groups and individuals?
There are two main authorities for terrorism designations of groups and individuals. Groups can be designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations under the Immigration and Nationality Act. Under Executive Order 13224 a wider range of entities, including terrorist groups, individuals acting as part of a terrorist organization, and other entities such as financiers and front companies, can be designated as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs).

2. Who can designate FTOs and SDGTs?
The Department of State is authorized to designate FTOs and SDGTs, while the Department of the Treasury designates only SDGTs. Both departments pursue these designations in cooperation with the Department of Justice. All of the Department of State’s designations can be found at: http://www.state.gov/j/ct/list/index.htm. All State FTO and EO designations can also be found at the Treasury OFAC website.

3. What are the criteria for designation?
The Secretary of State designates Foreign Terrorist Organizations in accordance with section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The legal criteria for designating a group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization are:
The organization must be a foreign organization;
The organization engages in terrorist activity or terrorism, or retains the capability and intent to engage in terrorist activity or terrorism; and
The terrorist activity or terrorism of the organization threatens the security of United States nationals or the national security of the United States.

Under Executive Order 13224, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Attorney General, may designate foreign individuals or entities that he determines have committed, or pose a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism that threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the U.S.; or, the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Attorney General, may designate individuals or entities that are determined:
To be owned or controlled by, or act for or on behalf of an individual or entity listed in the Annex to the Order or by or for persons determined to be subject to the Order;
To assist in, sponsor, or provide financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, acts of terrorism or individuals or entities designated in or under the Order; or
To be otherwise associated with certain individuals or entities designated in or under the Order.

4. What makes you decide to designate or not designate a group or entity?
Within the Department of State, the Bureau of Counterterrorism identifies and evaluates possible individuals or organizations for designation. Other Departments also recommend designation targets.

5. How long does the process take?
For Foreign Terrorist Organizations, once an organization is identified, we prepare a detailed "administrative record," which is a compilation of information, typically including both classified and open source information, demonstrating that the statutory criteria for designation have been satisfied.
If the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Treasury, decides to make the designation, Congress is notified of the Secretary’s intent to designate the organization seven days before the designation is published in the Federal Register, as section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act requires.
Upon the expiration of the seven-day waiting period and in the absence of Congressional action to block the designation, notice of the designation is published in the Federal Register, at which point the designation takes effect.

For Specially Designated Global Terrorists, As with FTO designations, an “administrative record” is prepared for E.O. 13224 designations. Once it is completed and the Secretary of State or the Secretary of the Treasury designates an individual or entity, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the Department of the Treasury takes appropriate action to block the assets of the individual or entity in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons, including notification of the blocking order to U.S. financial institutions, directing them to block the assets of the designated individual or entity.
Notice of the designation is also published in the Federal Register. OFAC also adds the individual or entity to its list of Specially Designated Nationals, by identifying such individuals or entities as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs), and posts a notice of this addition on the OFAC website.
Designations remain in effect until the designation is revoked or the Executive Order lapses or is terminated in accordance with U.S. law.

 6. What are the consequences of a designation?
Executive Order:
With limited exceptions set forth in the Order, or as authorized by OFAC, all property and interests in property of designated individuals or entities that are in the United States or that come within the United States, or that come within the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked.
With limited exceptions set forth in the Order, or as authorized by OFAC, any transaction or dealing by U.S. persons or within the United States in property or interests in property blocked pursuant to the Order is prohibited, including but not limited to the making or receiving of any contribution of funds, goods, or services to or for the benefit of individuals or entities designated under the Order.

Any transaction by any U.S. person or within the United States that evades or avoids, or has the purpose of evading or avoiding, or attempts to violate, any of the prohibitions in the Order is prohibited. Any conspiracy formed to violate any of the prohibitions is also prohibited.
Civil and criminal penalties may be assessed for violations.

Foreign Terrorist Organization:
It is unlawful for a person in the United States or subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to knowingly provide "material support or resources" to a designated FTO.
Representatives and members of a designated FTO, if they are aliens, are inadmissible to and, in certain circumstances removable from, the United States.

The Secretary of the Treasury may require U.S. financial institutions possessing or controlling any assets of a designated FTO to block all transactions involving those assets.

SEA HAWK HELICOPTER AT DUSK




FROM:  U.S. NAVY
An SH-60B Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to the Warlords of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HSL) 51 sits chocked and chained on the flight deck of the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Cowpens (CG-63) at dusk. Cowpens is forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan and is underway in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Paul Kelly (Released) 120707-N-TX154-291

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE CLINTON MEETS WITH FOREIGN MINISTER MINH OF VIEWTNAM


Map Credit:  U.S. State Department.
FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
Remarks With Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh After Their Meeting
Remarks Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State Government Guest House
Hanoi, Vietnam
July 10, 2012
FOREIGN MINISTER MINH: (In Vietnamese.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Foreign Minister Minh, for your warm welcome today. It's wonderful being back in Vietnam, and I appreciate this opportunity to reaffirm the growing and mutually beneficial partnership between our two nations.

I fondly remember my first visit here in the year 2000, and it's remarkable now on my third visit as Secretary of State to see all the changes and the progress that we've made together. We're working on everything from maritime security and nonproliferation to public health and disaster relief to promoting trade and economic growth. And of course, as the Minister and I discussed, we continued to address legacy issues such as Agent Orange, unexploded ordnance, and accounting for those missing in action as well.
Vietnam has emerged as a leader in the lower Mekong region and in Southeast Asia, and the United States and Vietnam share important strategic interests. When the Foreign Minister and I travel to the ASEAN Regional Forum in Phnom Penh, we will have a chance to engage with our colleagues such as regional integration, the South China Sea, cyber security, North Korea, and the future of Burma.

The United States greatly appreciates Vietnam's contributions to a collaborative, diplomatic resolution of disputes and a reduction of tensions in the South China Sea. And we look to ASEAN to make rapid progress with China toward an effective code of conduct in order to ensure that as challenges arise, they are managed and resolved peacefully through a consensual process in accordance with established principles of international law.

The Foreign Minister and I discussed these and many other issues, including our interest in deepening cultural, educational, and economic ties. We have a business delegation with us on this trip, and I will be meeting with them later.

I will also help celebrate the 20th anniversary of the return of the Fulbright Program in Vietnam. Nearly 15,000 Vietnamese students study in the United States each year. They come home and contribute to Vietnam's continued development, and we are very much hoping to deepen our ties even further by sending Peace Corps volunteers to Vietnam in the near future.

When I visit with the American Chamber of Commerce and a number of both Vietnamese and American business leaders, we will look for ways to expand trade and investment. As the Minister and I were discussing, it has increased from practically nothing in 1995 to more than $22 billion today. In fact, in just the two years that – between now and 2010, it's grown more than 40 percent.

So we're working on expanding it through a far-reaching, new regional trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would lower trade barriers while raising standards on everything from labor conditions to environmental protection to intellectual property. Both of our countries will benefit. And in fact, economists expect that Vietnam would be among the countries under the Trans-Pacific Partnership to benefit the most. And we hope to finalize this agreement by the end of the year.

Higher standards are important, because if Vietnam is going to continue developing and transition to an innovative entrepreneurial economy for the 21st century, there will have to be more space created for the free exchange of ideas, to strengthen the rule of law, and respect the universal rights of all workers, including the right to unionize.

I want to underscore something I said in Mongolia yesterday. I know there are some who argue that developing economies need to put economic growth first and worry about political reform and democracy later, but that is a short-sided bargain. Democracy and prosperity go hand in hand, political reform and economic growth are linked, and the United States wants to support progress in both areas.

So I also raised concerns about human rights, including the continued detention of activists, lawyers, and bloggers, for the peaceful expression of opinions and ideas. In particular, we are concerned about restrictions on free expression online and the upcoming trial of the founders of the so-called Free Journalists Club. The Foreign Minister and I agreed to keep talking candidly and to keep expanding our partnership.

So again, Minister Minh, let me thank you for your hospitality and thank you for coming back from Cambodia to meet with me. I greatly appreciate that effort that you made, and we look forward to continuing both our bilateral and regional cooperation.

MODERATOR: (In Vietnamese.)

QUESTION: (In Vietnamese.)

FOREIGN MINISTER MINH: (In Vietnamese.)

MODERATOR: (In Vietnamese.)

QUESTION: Thanks very much. Madam Secretary, Egypt's highest court and its top generals rejected President Morsi's call to reconvene parliament, and that's setting them on a direct collision course. What do you think this does to the political stability in Egypt? And do you view that as a matter of a power grab or a defense of democracy?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, I think it is important what is happening into context. There was a largely peaceful revolution, competitive elections, and now there is an elected president, the first ever in Egypt's very long history, and the United States remains committed to working with Egypt, both the government and civil society to assist it in completing a democratic transition, in particular, dealing with a lot of the difficult economic and security issues that the new government will have to face. But I think it's important to underscore that democracy is not just about elections. It is about creating a vibrant, inclusive political dialogue, listening to civil societies, having good relations between civilian officials and military officials where each is working to serve the interests of the citizens, and democracy really is about empowering citizens to determine the direction of their own country.

And I’m well aware that change is difficult. It's not going to happen quickly. We've seen over the last few days that there's a lot of work ahead of Egypt to keep this transition on course, and we urge that there be intensive dialogue among all of the stakeholders in order to ensure that there is a clear path for them to be following and that the Egyptian people get what they protested for and what they voted for, which is a fully elected government making the decisions for the country going forward. And the United States has been a partner with Egypt for a long time. We want to continue to work with them to promote regional stability, to prevent conflict, to try to protect our mutual interests in the region. The relationship is important to us. It's also important to Egypt's neighbors.
So I look forward to meeting with and talking to President Morsi and other leading Egyptian officials along with representatives from a broad cross section of Egyptian society when I'm in Egypt this weekend to hear their views. But we strongly urge dialogue and a concerted effort on the part of all to try to deal with the problems that are understandable but have to be resolved in order to avoid any kind of difficulties that could derail the transition that is going on.

MODERATOR: (In Vietnamese.)

QUESTION: (In Vietnamese.)

MODERATOR: That's a question for you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Is it for me? Ah. (Laughter.) I'm sorry. I didn't realize that. As we discussed, I have worked very hard to make sure that the United States is addressing the Agent Orange issue. It is a legacy issue that we are – we remain concerned about, and we have increased our financial commitment to dealing with it. The Minister and I discussed consulting on having a long-term plan so that we can look not just from year to year, but into the future to try to determine the steps that we can both take. The Minister also mentioned the idea of getting the private sector involved in remediation efforts, and we will certainly explore that as part of this ongoing discussion.
And then with respect to missing in action accounting, the United States greatly appreciates Vietnam's cooperation over more than two decades in our efforts to account for missing U.S. personnel. In fact, we began that effort even before we established formal diplomatic relations back in 1995. When I visited with my husband when he came as President in 2000, we went out and saw the work of the joint American-Vietnamese teams, and I was deeply moved by that. And we want to continue that work. It's work that we believe very strongly in. Through these efforts, we've repatriated and identified nearly 700 Americans. But nearly 1,300 personnel remain missing, and when Secretary Panetta was here, Vietnam announced that it would open areas that had previously been restricted, and we're very appreciative of that. And we want to do more to help Vietnam recover their missing as well. So there's a lot for us to be doing, and we want to be as focused in the follow-up as possible.

MODERATOR: (In Vietnamese.)

QUESTION: Thank you, Madam Secretary. Brad Klapper from AP. You'll be going as well to Israel next week and – in another effort to promote peace efforts. At the same time, the Palestinian Prime Minister has – Palestinian President has approved the exhumation of former leader Yasser Arafat amid claims that he may have been poisoned by Israel. In this kind -- is this kind of atmosphere conducive to any progress on peace? And if there were any evidence uncovered to suggest or even create more suspicion regarding Arafat's death, what would that mean for peace efforts? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Bradley, I'm not going to answer a string of hypotheticals. Nobody can predict what may or may not come of such action. I'll be going to Israel to discuss a broad range of issues that are of deep concern to Israel, to the United States, and to the region and certainly the ongoing efforts to create a conducive environment for the peace processes among them. But it's not the only important matter on our agenda. But I think that we are not going to be responding to the rumors or the suppositions that others are making. I will await whatever investigation is carried out. But I also look forward to continuing my dialogue with the Palestinians. As you know, I met with President Abbas in Paris a few days ago. I look forward to seeing other Palestinian leaders as well. So I think there is a broad discussion that is important for us to have without in any way prejudging the outcome of any individual issue.

MODERATOR: (In Vietnamese.)

FOREIGN MINISTER MINH: Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.