July 7, 2015
POOL Report #1 – Obama and Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong of Vietnam, in Oval Office
Check all transcripts, per usual.
Obama answered no questions after each man, seated in front of the fireplace, offered their respective remarks, and then rose to shake hands for the cameras.
The president said he looked “forward to visiting your beautiful country some time in the future.” Trong said he was glad Obama “graciously accepted my invitation.”
Each, appearing cordial and relaxed, ticked off similar lists of what they covered during the meeting, including TPP, human rights, and the South China Sea issues with China.
Obama said the discussion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership included “the enormous potential of a high-standards trade agreement that raises labor standards, raises environmental standards and could potentially create significant job growth and prosperity for both the Vietnamese and the American people.”
“This was an excellent opportunity for us to deepen our discussions around our vision for a comprehensive partnership,” the president said.
Obama said they discussed “the importance of resolving maritime disputes in the South China Sea and throughout the Asia Pacific, in accordance with international law to ensure that the prosperity and freedom of navigation that has underwritten the enormous economic growth that has taken place in the region continues for decades to come.”
The president said between the US and Vietnam there “remain differences in the bilateral relationship and we discussed candidly some of our differences around issues of human rights, for example, and freedom of religion, but what I’m confident about is that diplomatic dialogue and practical steps taken together will benefit both countries, that these tensions can be resolved in an effective fashion…”
Trong, 71, noted the historic nature of his meeting with Obama at the White House and similarly described their meeting as “constructive and candid” including TPP. “We also discussed our differences and the way forward, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership as well as the human rights issues,” he said through his interpreter. Trong said they “shared their concerns” about South China Sea activities “not in accordance with international law that may complicate the situation.”
Neither referred to China by name.
As Obama was describing the differences in the bilateral relationship, a member of the visiting press corps nudged the antique grandfather clock to the president’s left enough to create a noisy interruption close to where Wrangler Peter Velz stood. The president did not interrupt the flow of his remarks at that moment, but when he stood up to shake Trong’s hand and thank him warmly for his visit, he smiled jokingly at Velz and asked, “Who’s knocking over my stuff over there?”
Then he looked at his watch and told Trong and his aides “we’re a little behind” – referring to the schedule. When the president turned back to gaze at the exiting journalists, he appeared to be surreptitiously chewing gum.
Seen in the Oval Office: National Security Adviser Susan Rice and US Trade Representative Michael Froman.
VP Biden, who was hosting a State Department lunch for Trong, was not in the Oval when POOL entered, although he was slated to attend the actual meeting.
The meeting occurs two decades after the U.S. (President Clinton) announced normalized relations with Vietnam on July 11, 1995, and 40 years after the fall of Saigon.
White House Correspondent