Bush, in Vietnam, Says Change Takes Time

By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 18, 2006

HANOI, Nov. 17 -- President Bush arrived Friday in Vietnam on a mission to strengthen business ties with the rapidly changing country and ease the bitter memories of the war the United States waged here decades ago.

"History has a long march to it," Bush said when asked how he felt about being hosted by a former U.S. enemy. "Societies change, and relationships can constantly be altered to the good."

Bush is in Vietnam for the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, a two-day gathering of 21 countries.

His visit has prompted comparisons between the failed U.S. military adventure here and the war in Iraq. Asked whether any lessons from Vietnam apply to the war in Iraq, Bush said: "One lesson is, is that we tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is going to take a while."

"It's just going to take a long period of time for the ideology that is hopeful, and that is an ideology of freedom, to overcome an ideology of hate," Bush said. "We'll succeed unless we quit," he added.

Bush is the second U.S. president to visit Vietnam since the end of the war, following President Bill Clinton's trip here near the conclusion of his second term in 2000.

When Clinton visited, thousands of Vietnamese lined the streets to catch a glimpse of his motorcade, and many others crowded into the square outside his hotel. Interest in Bush's visit appeared less intense. As the president's motorcade drove by, some residents stopped their motorbikes to watch while others quietly waved from along the streets.

Still, Bush's route into Hanoi from the airport offered ample evidence of the Communist government's embrace of private enterprise. Billboards advertising the Hanoi Golf Club, farming equipment and Toyota and Chevrolet cars line the main road, which also runs past Panasonic and Canon manufacturing plants.

A long period of stagnation followed the Communist victory that led to reunification of Vietnam. But the economy has expanded in recent years, with a growth rate of 8.4 percent, although average income is just $638 a year.

"I have seen firsthand the great vibrancy and the excitement that's taking place in Vietnam," Bush said to Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet. "You're like a young tiger, and I look forward to continuing to work to make sure our bilateral relations are close."

After arriving from Singapore on Friday morning, Bush had a lunch meeting with Australian Prime Minister John Howard and met with Vietnamese and Communist Party leaders. Later, the president was the honored guest at a state dinner.

On Saturday, Bush will meet with the leaders of South Korea and Japan in sessions expected to focus on efforts to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program, an issue that may dominate much of the economic summit.

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