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Kerry Uses Vietnam War Peace Talks as Reference for Syria Policy

11:14 AM, Feb 6, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
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In an interview on Wednesday, CNN's Jake Tapper questioned Secretary of State John Kerry about Iran, the security of the Sochi Olympics, and Syria. On the latter issue, Tapper asked the secretary point blank if the Obama administration's Syria policy had failed:

TAPPER:  The director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, said that Bashar al-Assad in Syria has been strengthened since the chemical weapons deal.  The United Nations says that Assad's regime is torturing children.  He seems to be - Assad seems to be slow-walking the chemical weapons process and those are only the weapons that he's acknowledged he has, not other ones that he might be stockpiling, according to other reports. 

Hasn't the policy in Syria failed?

While Kerry acknowledged that "it's fair to say that Assad has improved his position a little bit," he asserted that despite the fact that "diplomacy is tough, slogging, slow work and hard work," progress was being made. In making his point about the nature of diplomacy, however, the secretary may wish in retrospect that he'd picked a different example:

[The parties in the Syrian conflict] will come back in a few days to Geneva, resume the conversation, not just, you know, I - I don't want to make any excuse whatsoever.  We want this to move faster.  We want it to do better.
But I remember talks around Vietnam, where it took Henry Kissinger a year to get the size and shape of the table decided.  It took another several years before they even came to some kind of an agreement.

Efforts to establish peace talks to end the Vietnam war began in 1968 and after many delays, as Kerry said, eventually culminated in the Paris Peace Accords in 1973.  But despite the Nobel Peace Prizes awarded in connection with the accords, the terms were widely ignored, and the North Vietnamese overran the south and captured Saigon in 1975.  Kerry, who served in the Vietnam War, was an outspoken critic of U.S. involvement in the conflict.

Wednesday was not the first time Kerry has drawn on the history of Vietnam diplomacy in conjunction with a Mideast conflict.  In early January this year, Kerry referenced his recent trip to Vietnam as a lesson of how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may someday be resolved:

On a personal level, last month I traveled to Vietnam on my first visit there as Secretary of State.  And the transformation in our relationship -- I was a young soldier who fought there -- the transformation in our relationship is proof that as painful as the past can be, through hard work of diplomacy history's adversaries can actually become partners for a new day and history's challenges can become opportunities for a new age.

Despite Kerry's January assertion that "history's adversaries can actually become partners," the acting U.S. Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council Peter Mulrean had some rather harsh words for Vietnam, ironically on Wednesday, the same day that John Kerry was interviewed by Jake Tapper. Reuters reported Mulrean's statements:

"Vietnam still harasses and detains those who exercise universal rights and freedoms, such as freedoms of expression and association," acting U.S. Ambassador Peter Mulrean said in a debate that was part of the 47-member forum's scrutiny of the record of all U.N. member states every four years. 

The United States was also concerned at restrictions placed on religious freedoms and on forming independent trade unions, the use of child labor and the government's use of compulsory labor, he said. 

Vietnam should "revise vague national security laws that are used to suppress universal rights and unconditionally release all political prisoners", he said. 

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