Obama in Vietnam: Arms Embargo, Human Rights, Peace Corps, and Anthony Bourdain

Posted: 4:53 pm ET
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Meanwhile, Secretary Kerry made an unannounced visit in downtown Hanoi .

 

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Kerry Visits Vietnam as US Embassy Hanoi Celebrates 20th Anniversary

Posted: 2:11 pm EDT
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Photo from US Embassy Hanoi/FB

Photo from US Embassy Hanoi/FB

Diplomatic relations with Vietnam were established on February 17, 1950, when the Consulate General at Saigon was raised to Legation status with Edmund A. Gullion as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim.

In 1952, the United States Legation in Saigon was raised to Embassy status on June 24, 1952, when Ambassador Donald R. Heath received confirmation of his appointment from the United States Senate. The United States maintained its Embassy in Saigon and conducted diplomatic relations solely with the Government of South Vietnam, which in 1955 reorganized itself as the Republic of Vietnam.

The United States closed the Embassy in Saigon and evacuated all Embassy personnel on April 29, 1975, just prior to the surrender of South Vietnam to North Vietnamese forces.

According to history.state.gov, the United States opened a Liaison Office in Hanoi, the capital of a reunified Vietnam on January 28, 1995. Diplomatic relations were re-established July 11, 1995, and Embassy Hanoi was established with L. Desaix Anderson as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim. Ambassador Pete Peterson presented his credentials and assumed his post at the Embassy on May 14, 1997.

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US Embassy Vietnam: Former POTUS Bill Clinton Visits to Celebrate 20 Years of Normalized U.S.-Vietnam Relations

Posted: 2:04 am  EDT
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Look who was in Vietnam to celebrate the 239th birthday of U.S. independence and the 20th anniversary of the normalization of U.S.-Vietnam relations!

clinton-07022015_500

Photo from US Embassy Hanoi/FB

Screen Shot 2015-07-07

Photo via US Embassy Hanoi/FB

Via US Mission Vietnam:

President Bill Clinton traveled to Hanoi to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the historic normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and Vietnam. The 1995 announcement was one of many actions taken by President Clinton to help the two nations embrace the spirit of reconciliation and move into the future together, including the lifting of the trade embargo and the negotiation of a bilateral trade agreement.

On July 11, 1995, President Clinton announced “the normalization of diplomatic relationships with Vietnam,” paving the way for historic engagement. This breakthrough led to the Comprehensive Partnership signed by President Obama and President Sang in 2013 and to the shared vision that characterizes the multi-faceted bilateral relationship that guides our two countries into the future. With eyes fixed on that bright future, the United States Government is proud to highlight the progress made by our two countries by hosting receptions in Hanoi and in Ho Chi Minh City; and by hosting programs throughout 2015 in Vietnam’s 63 provinces.

Ambassador Osius spoke of optimism at USCG Ho Chi Minh’s  July 1 event:

“As I look back, I recall that first Independence Day event 18 years ago was not as elegant as this one, there were fewer guests, there were fewer American officials working here, fewer American companies …. But still, that event was important symbolically because it represented a new era between our two countries…. What we learned during those early years… was that despite being former enemies, the U.S. and Vietnam could build a new relationship…. So, as Ambassador, I am optimistic.

Here is an excerpt from President Clinton’s remarks:

When the Ambassador was up here introducing me in Vietnamese, your Deputy Prime Minister said he’s pretty good.  [Laughter].  I said well he should be, he was part of the original crew that helped us set up shop here, and then he came back and worked in the National Security Council when I was in office.  I’m glad he got a well-deserved promotion and I thank him for what he’s doing.
[…]
I think most every Vietnamese person could say what Vietnam has gotten out of it.  I would like to tell you that from my point of view America may have won the war, so my friends say.  To me the symbol of why we did the right thing will always be Ambassador Pete Peterson and his wonderful wife.  Many of you know, he spent more than six years as a guest of the Vietnamese government during the war.  He then went home and did his best to put his family back together, ran for Congress, got elected, became our Ambassador — our first Ambassador, one of the best appointments I ever made — and then married his wonderful wife and moved to Australia so he could come to Vietnam once a month and visit here.

I tell you all this because for millions of Americans 20 years ago, actually July 11th, was a different form of independence day.  Vietnam had captured our imagination and taken up so much space in our spirit that there were people who were wounded and injured, and no American my age didn’t know at least someone who was killed here.  There were raging debates at home.  People on both sides thought the others were crazy.  And somehow when finally our Vietnamese friends said they would accept us and we said we would accept them, we were set free.  Those being set free included those who made this day possible, members of the Senate in both parties including President Johnson’s son-in-law, Senator Chuck Robb who supported this, and who probably lost more men under his command, more than any other person working on this; Senator Max Cleland from Georgia who lost two legs and an arm; and of course Senator John Kerry, now Secretary of State; and Senator John McCain, now Chairman of the Armed Services Committee of the Senate.  I want to thank them.  They were the win beneath the wings of this movement.  They made what I was able to do as President possible.  They knew it was a bigger movement in America than it was in Vietnam.

His full remarks here:  http://vietnam.usembassy.gov/clinton-070215.html.

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Theodore Osius III Sworn-in as New U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam

— Domani Spero
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Via state.gov

Theodore Osius III, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, currently serves as Associate Professor at the National War College in Washington, D.C. on detail from the Department of State. Deeply experienced in Asian Affairs, he was among the first officers in Hanoi, opened the post in Ho Chi Minh City and has held critical senior executive positions in the region. Known as a talented leader and expert manager, he uses his public affairs and electronic outreach savvy to reach important audiences. He has a strong grounding in commercial advocacy that delivers concrete trade results. He will bring essential skills to the task of furthering bilateral relations with the Government of Vietnam, a key nation in Southeast Asia for American diplomacy.

Previously, Mr. Osius served the Department of State as a Senior Fellow, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C. (2012-2013), Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy Jakarta, Indonesia (2009-2012), Political Minister-Counselor, Embassy New Delhi, India (2006-2009), Deputy Director, Office of Korean Affairs (2004-2006), Regional Environment Officer, Embassy Bangkok, Thailand (2001-2004), Senior Advisor on International Affairs, Office of the Vice President (1998-2001), Political Officer, Consulate General, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (1997-1998), Political Officer, Embassy Hanoi, Vietnam (1996-1997), Staff Aide/Political Officer, U.S. Mission to the United Nations, New York (1993-1995), Political/Management Officer, Embassy Vatican, Holy See (1992-1993) and Political/Consular Officer, Embassy Manila, Philippines (1989-1991). He was also Legislative Correspondent, Office of Albert Gore, Jr., U.S. Senate (1985-1987) and Presidential Intern, American University, Cairo, Egypt (1984-1985). He is a Founding Member of Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies.

Mr. Osius earned an A.B. from Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1984 and a M.A. from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. in 1989. He is the recipient of two Senior Foreign Service Performance Awards, six Superior Honor Awards and three Meritorious Honor Awards from the Department of State. He speaks Vietnamese, French, Italian, Basic Arabic, Basic Hindi, Basic Thai, Basic Japanese and Basic Indonesian.

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Senate Confirms Leaf (UAE), Osius (Vietnam), Ruggles (Rwanda), and Stanton (Timor-Leste)

— Domani Spero
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On November 17, the U.S. Senate finally got around to confirming the nominations of the following career ambassadors for the United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Rwanda and Timor-Leste. We should note that the ambassador designate for Timor-Leste has waited for this confirmation for over 400 days.

Barbara A. Leaf – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the United Arab Emirates

Theodore G. Osius III – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Erica J. Barks Ruggles – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Rwanda

Karen Clark Stanton – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste

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U.S. Embassy Hanoi Starts Vietnam Adoption Processing Through the Special Adoption Program

— Domani Spero
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Last month, the the United States started processing the  Hague Convention adoptions from Vietnam through the Special Adoption Program. Two U.S. adoption service providers – Dillon International and Holt International Children’s Services, were selected and granted by the Government of Vietnam licenses to operate intercountry adoption program for children with special needs, children aged five and older, and children in biological sibling groups (Special Adoption Program).  According to Embassy Hanoi, the ceremony held on September 16, 2014 also marks the effective date for the United States to start processing Hague Convention adoptions from Vietnam through the Special Adoption Program. Below is an excerpt from the announcement:

Inter-country adoption between the United States and Vietnam has been inactive since 2008. Since that time, Vietnam has strengthened its commitment to reforming its adoption system. The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-Operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Convention) entered into force for Vietnam on February 1, 2012. The Government of Vietnam has taken a number of steps to improve its implementation of the Convention, particularly in adoptions of children with special needs and for older children and biological sibling groups. A new adoption law, implementing decree, and related circulars have been passed and are being implemented. The United States welcomes Vietnam’s efforts to enhance its child welfare and intercountry adoption system and has now determined that, through the Special Adoption Program, it will be able to process Convention adoptions from Vietnam. However, the United States will not process Convention adoptions from Vietnam that fall outside the parameters of the Special Adoption Program. We will continue to monitor the Vietnamese child welfare program to determine if the intercountry adoption program can be expanded.

Below is Tiffany Murphy, the Chief of the Consular Section of the U.S Embassy in Hanoi announcing the content of the adoption program between the two countries. Via Vietnam International Television VTV4

Click here for the adoption information from DHS/USCIS.

 

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Ambassador David Shear: From Vietnam to DOD’s Asian and Pacific Security Affairs (APSA)

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— Domani Spero 

Last month, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ambassador David B. Shear to be the next Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs in the Department of Defense. The WH released the following brief bio:

Ambassador David B. Shear is the U.S. Ambassador to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, a position he has held since 2011.  From 2009 to 2011, he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the Department of State (DOS).  Previously, he was the Director of the Office of Chinese and Mongolian Affairs in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at DOS.  Mr. Shear joined the Foreign Service in 1982 and has served in Sapporo, Beijing, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, and Washington, D.C.

Mr. Shear received a B.A. from Earlham College and an M.A from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and has attended Waseda University, Taiwan National University, and Nanjing University.

US Embassy Vietnam: CODEL McCain - Jan 18-20, 2012

Ambassador David Shear with Senator John McCain
US Embassy Vietnam: CODEL McCain – Jan 18-20, 2012

APSA is responsible for oversight of security cooperation programs and foreign military sales programs within the regions under its supervision. It looks like it covers East Asia, South & Southeast Asia and Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia.

If confirmed. Ambassador Shear would succeed Mark Lippert who was appointed to the position in 2011 and confirmed by the Senate in 2012. In May 2013, Mr. Limpert became the Chief of Staff to the Secretary of Defense. Dr. Peter R. Lavoy who served as the Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs (APSA) is reportedly leaving this month. Ambassador Derek J. Mitchell, the current U.S. Ambassador to Burma was previously the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for APSA.

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Related item:
December 19, 2013 | President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts

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The Rushford Report on the “Consul General’s Candidacy as the Next Ambassador to Vietnam”

On April 15, Greg Rushford of The Rushford Report published this piece on How (Not) to Become a U.S. Ambassador.  The article refers to the U.S. Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City, career Foreign Service officer An T. Le. Our U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam is David Shear who arrived at post in August 2011. Under typical appointments,  Ambassador Shear, as a career diplomat appointed to his position by President Obama, is expected to serve until the summer of 2014.

The reporter is citing email exchange concerning this “candidacy” —  this might be the first time a career FSO is shown as allegedly conducting in Rushford’s words “essentially a clandestine political pressure campaign aimed [at] securing a White House nomination.”  If you want to look at this kindly, one might say, the FSO demonstrates long term preparation and foresight for a vacancy that is expected to occur in 15 months.

The report here also includes the list of “Friends & Supporters of Consul General An T. Le in Ho Chi Minh City” that was reportedly presented by California businessman David Duong to President Obama at a Democratic Party fundraiser during the president’s April 3-4, 2013 appearances in the San Francisco Bay area. Quick excerpt:

Le wants to become the next U.S. ambassador to Vietnam. Toward that end, the consul general has been working behind the scenes since at least last July with a network of Vietnamese-American allies, some of whom have political and business connections in both Washington and Hanoi. Although Le has urged his supporters to try to drum up congressional support, the main target of the lobbying campaign is the man who would make the nomination: President Barack Obama.
[…]
The e-mails reveal that as he has sought to advance what Le has repeatedly referred to as his “candidacy,” the consul general has not been merely a passive observer. Le has participated in drafting and editing various letters of support and introduction. Before California business Duong presented the letter to Obama on April 3, Le advised his ally to correct a typo. Upon being informed by Duong that the letter had been delivered to Obama, Le expressed his gratitude in another e-mail. Writing on his iPad, the consul general related how “I appreciate” the efforts of such good “friends in advancing my candidacy.”
[…]
It is highly unusual — perhaps unprecedented —  for an active member of the U.S. foreign service to run what is essentially a clandestine political pressure campaign aimed securing a White House nomination for an ambassadorship to an important country.

Oh, dear.  Continue reading How (Not) to Become a U.S. Ambassador.

According to its website, The Rushford Report was launched by veteran Washington investigative reporter Greg Rushford in January 1995.

A February 2012 OIG report on US Mission Vietnam had quite a lot to say about Mr. Le’s work at USCG Ho Chi Minh. See State/OIG: US Mission Vietnam — One Mission, One Team, Well, Sort Of.

— DS

US Embassy Vietnam: Congressman Calls for Firing of Ambassador Shear ‘Cuz Embassy Not An Island of Freedom

On July 9th, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) who represents the 10th District  since 1981 (and is up for reelection) in northern Virginia, the home to many Vietnamese-Americans has called for the firing of the US Ambassador to Vietnam David Shear.  This is not the first time, he has done this, of course.  In May this year, Congressman Wolf had also called for Ambassador Shear’s sacking.

If we fire our diplomats every time a congressman is upset with a career diplomat, we won’t have anyone left to run our embassies.

According to Congressman Wolf’s office, Ambassador David Shear should be removed because he has “repeatedly failed to advocate for human rights and speak out for the voiceless in Vietnam.” Wolf recommended that Shear be replaced by a Vietnamese-American.

In his letter to President Obama, Congressman Wolf was particularly upset by 1) Ambassador Shear’s “failure to invite more dissidents and human rights activists” to the U.S. Embassy for a July 4 celebration after promising that he would; and 2) was disappointed in Ambassador Shear’s handling of the case of Dr. Nguyen Quoc Quan, a Vietanmese-American democracy activist and U.S. citizen presently being held by the Vietnamese government.

Below is an excerpt from Congressman Wolf’s letter to the WH with some photos we’ve dug up online from the US Embassy Vietnam:

I have long believed that U.S. embassies should be islands of freedom – especially in repressive countries like Vietnam. Under Ambassador Shear’s leadership it didn’t appear that the U.S. embassy in Hanoi was embracing this important task. But even more troubling is the fact that Dr. Quan is an American citizen, and yet there appeared to be little urgency to securing his release.

In speaking by phone with Ambassador Shear following the hearing I expressed my concerns and urged him to host a July 4th celebration at the embassy, where the guest list was comprised of religious freedom and democracy activists in Vietnam. I stressed that he should fling open the doors of the embassy and invite Buddhist monks and nuns, Catholic priests and Protestant pastors, Internet bloggers and democracy activists. Such was the custom during the Reagan Administration, especially in the Soviet Union. This practice sent a strong message that America stood with those who stand for basic human rights. In many cases it afforded these individuals protection from future harassment and even imprisonment.

From left to right: Clara Davis-Long, DRL DAS Kathleen Fitzpatrick, AAL Suzan Johnson Cooks, Archbishop Nguyen Van Nhon, U.S. Ambassador David Shear, and Father Hung.
(Photo from US Embassy Hanoi/Flickr)

Ambassador Shear said that he intended to honor this request. Following my conversation with him I received the enclosed letter from the department indicating that, “Ambassador Shear continues to engage with civil society advocates, promoters of rule-of-law, and democracy activists and will welcome them to the Embassy’s July 4th celebration.” I took Ambassador Shear at his word and in fact shared this correspondence with members of the Vietnamese Diaspora community in the U.S., several of whom were greatly encouraged by this development.

Late last week it was brought to my attention that many of the most prominent democracy and human rights activists in Vietnam were not invited to the event. These reports seemed starkly at odds with the assurances I had personally received from Ambassador Shear. I called him directly this morning to find out if the embassy had invited the dissidents as had been agreed upon. His response was appalling. He said that he had invited a few civil society activists but then said that he needed to maintain a “balance.”

From left to righ: Clara Davis-Long, IRF Desk Officer, DRL DAS Kathleen Fitzpatrick, U.S. Ambassador David Shear, Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook and Dr. Nguyen Thanh Xuan, Vice Chair of the Committee for Religious Affairs
(Photo from US Embassy Hanoi/Flickr)

I wonder how many prominent democracy and human rights activists flooded the 4th of July celebrations at our embassies in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, or China? And is Congressman Wolf upset with those as well?

Who would have thought that the 4th of July could be such a perilous event? And how many is “more” really, that seems like an important number.

I can understand Ambassador Shear’s point about “balance” but also appreciate the mission discretion over these invitees. Vietnam is run by a repressive, communist regime. The embassy has to deal with the government in place, not the government it wished were in place. That said, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the democracy or human right activists who shows up at this function could be put in peril just by the perception that they are working with the Americans. Does Congressman Wolf really want this kind of showy camera moment outreach during our national day or should we not prefer that the embassy have a more substantial engagement beyond the bright lights?

SON LA, Socialist Republic of Vietnam (Nov. 15, 2011) – Dr. Joshua Peck, center, a forensic anthropologist from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, briefs Ambassador David Shear, right, at a remote recovery site. Five recovery teams are searching in the Thai Nguyen, Bac Giang, Lang Son, Son La, and Thanh Hoa provinces at aircraft crash and burial sites for six Americans unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War. The ultimate goal of JPAC, and of the agencies involved in returning America’s heroes home, is to achieve the fullest possible accounting of Americans lost during the nation’s past conflicts. (DoD photo by Mr. Jason Kaye, U.S. Navy/Released)

Just a side note here — the 2012 IG report tells us that the Government of Vietnam requires advance permission to conduct programs outside U.S. Government premises, controls the print and electronic media, and sometimes limits access to Internet sites. The US Embassy in Vietnam has been creative in using Vietnamese alumni of U.S. exchange programs as they are able to operate outside the restrictions placed on American speakers.  These alumni can more easily engage with wider audiences as credible, informed communicators about their American experience, something the USG speakers are unable to do. That’s how restrictive is the operating environment. Heck, even acquiring land for a much-needed, new embassy compound there have stalled because the GOV is unwilling to grant a lease term that is acceptable to the State Department.

As to his gripe about the practice and custom during the Reagan Administration of sending a strong message that “America stood with those who stand for basic human rights,” it seems like the congressman has a rather selective memory. We may have been doing that in the Soviet Union, but didn’t we embraced an infamous human rights offender in Asia?  While visiting Ferdinand Marcos, the Filipino dictator, didn’t Reagan’s vice president, George H.W. Bush, toasted Marcos’ “adherence to democratic principles?” How quickly we forget our best moments in diplomacy.

As to Congressman Wolf’s complaint about the handling of the case of Dr. Nguyen Quoc Quan, a Vietanmese-American democracy activist and U.S. citizen who is presently being held by the Vietnamese government — for an elected official it shows a limited understanding of what our embassy can and cannot do for Americans in jail.

Dual nationals owe allegiance to both the United States and the foreign country. They are required to obey the laws of both countries. Either country has the right to enforce its laws, particularly if the person later travels there. The United States may view Dr. Quan as a dual national U.S. citizen, not prohibited under our laws, but the country of Vietnam may make no distinction about his dual nationality.

Dr Quan was reportedly arrested in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam on a trip on November 17, 2007 for preparing pro-democracy flyers. According to his Wikipedia entry, he brought in a Vietnamese translation of the book From Dictatorship to Democracy about nonviolent resistance. He stood trial in Vietnam on May 13, 2008 on charges of “terrorism” (those commies are creative) and was sentenced to 6 months in prison. He was eventually released on May 17, 2008 and returned to his home in California.

And in April 2012, Dr. Quan was again arrested at the airport in Ho Chi Minh City. Government officials did not confirm his arrest until five days later. He is reportedly once more, detained on charges of terrorism and for planning to “instigate a demonstration” during the anniversary of the Fall of Saigon.

News report in April indicate that the U.S. consulate in Vietnam has confirmed his arrest but that no formal charges have been filed and he has not been granted a lawyer.  Since his arrest, the US consulate was apparently able to visit him only once.

According to a 1994 agreement, U.S. citizens, even dual citizens, have the right to consular access if they were admitted into Vietnam as a U.S. citizen with their U.S. passport. If detained or arrested, travel.state.gov advised that “U.S. citizens should insist upon contact with the U.S. Embassy or the U.S. Consulate General.”

The problem is the Government of Vietnam is generally slow to notify the embassy about arrests or to grant access to U.S. citizen prisoners, and it requires diplomatic notes to schedule prison visits. It also does not permit visits without a Vietnamese official being present and insists that all verbal exchanges take place in Vietnamese.

Since the immediate release of Dr. Quan after each arrest is really what the congressman is looking for, nothing that the US mission in Vietnam do will ever be good enough.  Perhaps it would be helpful if the State Department offers basic, no perks, no salary fellowship for our congressional representatives to work the visa line and the American Citizens Services units in the hell holes of the world.  Surely that would be an instructive experience.

Domani Spero

State/OIG: US Mission Vietnam — One Mission, One Team, Well, Sort Of

Several weeks back, State/OIG released its inspection report of the US Embassy Hanoi and Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. The US Ambassador to Vietnam is career diplomat, David Shear who arrived at post in August 2011. The Consul General at Ho Chi Minh City is An T. Le who arrived at post in August 2010. The Consular Chief in Hanoi is Deborah Fairman who arrived at Embassy Hanoi in August 2009 and became section chief in July 2011, according to the OIG report. The Consular Chief at CG Ho Chi Minh City is not named in the report.

The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between September 7 and 27, 2011; in Hanoi, Vietnam, between October 20 and November 2, 2011, and between November 19 and 21, 2011; and in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, between November 2 and 18, 2011. The names of the members of the inspection team have been redacted.

U.S. Ambassador David Shear opens safe medicine exhibition in Hanoi
(Photo from USAID Vietnam/Flickr)

Some of the key judgments, so very well couched you got to read between the lines:

  • The Ambassador in Hanoi, the consul general in Ho Chi Minh City, and their respective deputies, should be at the forefront of an effort to more effectively coordinate embassy and consulate general operations. Increasing and formalizing regular, planned working visits of American and local employees between the two posts are a necessary step.
  • Embassy Hanoi’s reporting is generally comprehensive and of high quality, although staffing gaps and the loss of a position have adversely affected Hanoi’s output. Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City has not reported frequently enough or in sufficient detail on the official activities, meetings and policy views of the consul general.
  • Overall management operations at Embassy Hanoi and Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City are effective, although stronger cooperation and teamwork between the two are necessary.
  • The need for heightened involvement by embassy management in the mission’s management controls program is evident. Management control procedures at both Embassy Hanoi and Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City need to be carefully reviewed to ensure that employees at every level are fully aware of their responsibility for ensuring that controls are in place to protect assets and to avoid any perception of conflict of interest.

    U.S. Consul General Le An at Long An Province during a visit to USAID flood relief beneficiaries
    (Photo from USAID Vietnam/Flickr)

Ambassador Shear arrived at post about couple months before this OIG inspection.  The previous Chief of Mission at US Embassy Hanoi was career FSO, Michael W. Michalak who left post on February 14, 2011. Some of the finer points from the report:

  • The Ambassador also has engaged decisively with the embassy’s sole constituent post: the large and influential Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). On his introductory visit to Ho Chi Minh City, the Ambassador stressed to the American and Vietnamese staff that, as Chief of Mission, he values the important role of the consulate general and expects the embassy and consulate general staffs to function as “one mission, one team.” His message was especially welcome in view of a number of legacy issues, including Ho Chi Minh City’s continuing role as the economic and commercial hub of the entire country, the persistent cultural and historical differences between Vietnam’s North and South, and the symbolic significance that today’s consulate general is located on the site of the former embassy.
  • Embassy Hanoi and Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City, until recently, have operated more like two, separate missions than one, cohesive entity. The embassy has not provided, nor has the consulate general sought, regular guidance as to how the two posts can best operate together. With the arrival of new staff in summer 2011, both the embassy and the consulate general have started thinking about ways to project a “one mission, one team” face to the government and people of Vietnam and to the respective mission staffs. A necessary step to improving the mission’s cohesiveness will be increasing and formalizing a process whereby American and local employees conduct working visits between the two posts, for consultations and training.

There is no “I” in team, and hey, what about those pol reports?

  • The consul general is fluent in Vietnamese and has a deep understanding of the host country’s culture and norms. However, he only infrequently writes cables regarding his meetings outside the consulate general. It is important that he include other officers in all meetings related to political and economic affairs, human rights, the environment, energy, adoption concerns, treatment of minorities, and other matters relevant to their respective portfolios. The expertise of these officers should be called upon, even if it means relying on interpreters in some situations. (The Vietnamese language is notoriously difficult; even language-qualified officers sometimes require assistance from native speakers in unscripted situations.) The officers could act as note takers, and write cables or provide other information coming out of these meetings. In a closely controlled political environment such as Vietnam, no post official, including the consul general himself, should meet with Vietnamese officials unaccompanied. As an added benefit, in a culture that venerates seniority and status, including officers in meetings would enhance their ability to develop contacts and follow up independently on important issues.
  • The consulate general has produced some valuable and insightful reporting, but generally there is far less reporting than would be expected of a post of its size. Material provided by a consulate general often ends up in cables from the embassy, and there is a vibrant, informal exchange between the respective political and economic sections. More telling, however, is the lack of emphasis upon reporting by the consul general, who does not routinely report on his own activities nor provide comprehensive readouts. For example, a single cable reported on his visits to 6 provinces over the course of 7 months. This disinclination both eliminated a major source of reporting, as compared to previous years, and undercut the ability of other officers to follow up on his meetings. The inspection team counseled the consul general and his deputy to follow standard reporting practices.

iPads with no wi-fi, because folks will, of course pay for 4G in Vietnam – wait, what?!

  • For security reasons, there is no wireless Internet access at the embassy’s American Center, which limits the usefulness of the its new iPads. The OIG team discussed this situation with the embassy’s information management (IM) section, but due to the technical complexity of the issues, no decisions had been made by the end of the inspection. It is important that the mission continue to research ways to resolve these issues and still comply with Department regulations in 5 FAM 790-792.

VietNamNet has a pretty straightforward explanation – the new iPad has the advantage of having a 4G connection. However, that advantage has no use in Vietnam, where no mobile network has provided 4G services. So if you can’t use the new iPads at the American Center because there is no wireless access and there is no 4G service in Vietnam, the embassy clearly bought itself some pretty expensive mousepads.

The OIG inspectors, blessed their hearts recommends “that Embassy Hanoi explore the feasibility of establishing wireless Internet access or otherwise maximizing the usability of the Hanoi American Center’s iPads.”

Visa Referral System for national interests and who else?

  • The consulate general executive office, including both American and local staff, frequently contact the consular section to pass on information about specific visa applicants. For instance, they might ask the section to review a case; tell why they believe an applicant is qualified; or ask the consular chief or another manager to conduct a second interview. These practices violate the Department’s worldwide referral policy, which mandates that no information on specific cases be passed to the section outside of formal referrals. It is appropriate for the executive office to forward relevant correspondence to the consular section, but it should not ask for special treatment of visa applicants or advocate on their behalf outside the referral system. Shortly before this inspection, the deputy principal officer told local staff to stop sending cases directly to the consular section.
  • There are several issues regarding the way the referral system is handled at the consulate general. Not all referrals indicate how that referral directly supports U.S. national interests; they also do not specify the nature and degree of contact the person making the referral has had with the applicant, as is required by 9 FAM Appendix K.
  • The inspectors counseled the consul general and the deputy principal officer on the Department’s referral policy. They suggested having cards printed, explaining that visa eligibility is determined by strict legal requirements and that the consulate general’s leaders cannot influence the decision. This card, which could be given to anyone inquiring about visas, also could refer applicants to the consulate general’s Web site for additional information. The consul general accepted this suggestion.
  • The mission’s referral policy is out-of-date. As stated above, the referral practices conflict with Department policy on what constitutes a legitimate referral. The consular officers at the consulate general have not been trained on the Department’s policy. Because compliance has been an issue, it will be important for the Ambassador to review a monthly report on all referral cases, including information on any email or other contacts that circumvent the policy.

Wait, wait, our memory may be foggy but at some point in 2009 or 2010, we understand that there was a notice that went out to all missions requiring that the chief of the consular section provide a copy of the Worldwide Visa Referral Policy to mission staff and conduct a referral briefing to each officer who is authorized to utilize the mission referral system, before that officer submits and/or approves any visa referrals.  Actually it is in  9 FAM APPENDIX K, 102 WORLDWIDE VISA REFERRAL POLICY.  Now, this is not optional; the regs even say that “If an officer has not attended a referral briefing and signed the Worldwide NIV Referral Policy Compliance Agreement, he or she may not authorize or approve a referral, regardless of his or her position.”

That includes everyone, including Chiefs of Missions and Consul Generals, no doubt.

If there’s one thing that the State Department is really good at, it is writing and sending cables.  So if these senior officers had to be counseled by the OIG on the Department’s worldwide referral policy what are we to think? That they don’t read their incoming cables? Or were folks aware of the referral policy but were too scared to rock the boat?

We don’t know this for sure but we imagine that Vietnam as a communist country is considered a critical threat post for human intelligence. So, if those visa referrals did not indicate how each directly supports U.S. national interest, how come no one is asked to review all of them?

Consular managers missing on the visa line

  • The mission has a policy called “self clearing” that permits experienced, entry-level officers to send, without a manager’s review, memoranda requesting revocation of a petition. Given the sensitivity of these memoranda and the need for consistency, a manager should review all of them before they are sent to the National Visa Center for transmission to the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Some officers indicated that managers spend little time on the visa line. The inspectors emphasized the importance of managers spending some time adjudicating on the line, both to understand any systemic problems and to regularly see the types of cases that officers encounter.

Ugh!  And where’s the lead by example and all that feel good stuff about holding self accountable and modeling the leadership tenets? This is the kind of thing that makes newbies get jaded rather quickly. “Lead by example” but what if they’re learning the bad example?

FSI language training fail or who the heck talks nuclear proliferation with visa applicants?

  • Consular officers also indicated the language training at the Foreign Service Institute did not help them conduct consular interviews; many were more comfortable talking about nuclear nonproliferation than about family relationships.
  • The criteria for designating language study for a particular position (per 13 FAM 221 b.(l)) is that “only those positions where language proficiency is essential, rather than merely helpful or convenient, should be designated…” Language training, although useful, is expensive and time consuming. As such, it should provide officers with the particular language skills needed to adequately perform their job.

Oh dear, like how difficult is this really – you ask, Bạn có bao nhiêu trẻ em? or Urani bao nhiêu bạn có trong căn nhà của bạn? You can just ask the visa applicant how many kids do you have or how much Uranium do you have in your house? Or what kind of heavy water do you use in your laundry? Or are you or anyone in your family ever employed by A.Q Khan? The possibilities are endless, so really there’s no need to have a consular-centric vocabulary to adequately perform a consular job.

Follow the leader, it works

  • The consul general in Ho Chi Minh City circumvented host government importation restrictions by bringing in a vehicle that was more than 5 years old. There have been no reported repercussions. The stated reason behind the importation was to encourage the host government to relax this importation requirement, but the matter has not gained any momentum. It has not been followed up with a diplomatic note, nor was the issue raised with the Office of Foreign Missions. No other exceptions to the rule have been attempted, though some officers were encouraged to also import vehicles older than 5 years.

And so there you have it …. and life goes on….

The names of the accountable, responsible principal officers are all in the OIG reports and a matter of public record.  We hope to save our reading folks time from having to dig them up.

Domani Spero

Related item:

Inspection of Embassy Hanoi and Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam Report Number ISP-I-12-11A, February 2012