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US House speaker urges trade deal with Vietnam

Written by: Staff
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HANOI, Apr 13 (Reuters) US House Speaker Dennis Hastert urged the US Congress today to pass a deal that would allow Vietnam to join the World Trade Organisation, saying the ''greater good'' outweighed human rights concerns.

Hastert told reporters on a three-day visit to Vietnam that some members would put religious and human rights constraints on any trade bill.

''But in the long run for the greater good it is important for us to pass this legislation,'' said Hastert, an Illinois Republican who led a delegation of House members to Hanoi to meet government leaders.

Officials said former enemies Vietnam and the United States were close to reaching a trade agreement.

Once a deal is made, Congress must vote on giving the communist-run country what is called Permanent Normal Trade Relations Status.

That is one of the last pieces Vietnam needs before it can submit its final request for WTO membership.

The Southeast Asian country of 83 million has completed deals needed to enter the WTO with most of its leading trade partners. Its National Assembly, or parliament, would also have to approve any agreement.

A week ago, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution calling on Vietnam to release 30 people it described as democracy and religious activists.

A Vietnam government spokesman described the vote as unacceptable interference in its internal affairs and said it had no ''prisoners of conscience.'' Both Hanoi and Washington are keen for Vietnam to enter the world's biggest trading club by November 2006, when President George W. Bush visits Hanoi as it hosts the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who was part of this week's visiting delegation, said: ''Each of us is concerned about human rights, we just differ on how to accomplish that cause and most of us believe that engagement is the best way.'' The legislators arrived on Wednesday and will leave on Saturday.

REUTERS DKS HS2251

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