HANOI — Senator John McCain said Friday in Vietnam that it’s time for the United States to ease the ban on selling lethal arms to the communist country, saying it has progressed on human rights.
McCain told reporters in Hanoi that the easing should happen gradually, but he hoped it could begin as early as next month.
‘‘It should be limited at first to those defensive capabilities such as coast guard and maritime systems that are purely for external security,’’ he said.
The Obama administration has not announced any move to ease the ban, although during a visit to Hanoi in December, Secretary of State John Kerry announced up to $18 million in aid to provide Vietnam’s coast guard with five new fast patrol boats — part of a broader US effort to help Southeast Asian nations defend waters they claim as their own.
The Bush administration began allowing nonlethal arms sales to Vietnam in 2007. In June, President Obama’s nominee to become the next US ambassador to Vietnam said it may be time for Washington to consider lifting a ban on the sale and transfer of lethal weapons to the former American enemy. But the nominee, Ted Osius, told his Senate confirmation hearing — in response to a question from McCain — that the United States has made it clear to Vietnam that the ban can’t be lifted without significant progress on human rights.
Rights groups remain deeply critical of Vietnam’s record. It remains a one-party state that squelches dissent.