U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel said Friday he was reminded of the "horrors" of war while visiting Vietnam, and that it is too late to go back and undo "unwise decisions" regarding the war in Iraq.
Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska who is an influential member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is visiting Vietnam, Mongolia and Japan. He served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, and returned to the communist country in 1999 to help open the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City.
"The horrors of this war remind me of the folly of war," he said.
Hagel, a possible presidential candidate in 2008, has strongly criticized the handling of the war in Iraq and has compared it to the Vietnam War.
"Iraq is a far more complicated situation in-country than Vietnam," he said. "But we are where we are. We are not going to go back and unwind some very unwise decisions that were made. We have to deal with the realities that we now face."
Hagel said he fully supported Vietnam's bid to enter the World Trade Organization. The two countries signed a trade agreement in May, clearing the way for the U.S. to support Vietnam's membership. But the U.S. Congress must grant Vietnam permanent normal trade relations before the pact can take effect. That vote was not conducted before the session ended prior to elections.
Hagel said he's hopeful the vote will come before Vietnam hosts the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November. U.S. President George W. Bush is expected to attend that event.
"I am a strong supporter, as I believe most of the Congress is, in Vietnam's accession to the WTO," he said. "I'm sorry we did not get that vote taken."
Hagel also stressed the importance of human rights and religious freedom. The U.S. has been critical of Vietnam's rights record, including the imprisonment of several political and religious dissidents.
"The progress that has been made in Vietnam is considerable and it should be recognized, but we still have some issues to resolve," he said.