Rumsfeld Discusses MIAs, Economic Progress, De-mining in Vietnam
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 5, 2006 Recovering remains of missing American servicemembers and de-mining operations were among the host of issues Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his Vietnamese counterpart discussed here today.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Vietnamese Minister of Defense Gen. Pham Van Tra participate in a ceremony officially welcoming Rumsfeld to Hanoi, Vietnam, June 5. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, USN
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
In his first visit here as defense secretary, Rumsfeld and Vietnamese Minister of National Defense Pham Van Tra met at the Ministry of Defense headquarters for discussions on policy issues.
Defense Department spokesman Eric Ruff described the meeting as "very productive."
"There were a number of important issues discussed," he said. "And there were discussions about the way forward on a number of important issues that both sides agree are important for both countries to continue to look at and work on."
Before the meeting, Vietnamese military forces in formation in dress uniforms honored Rumsfeld with a pass in review after a Vietnamese army band played the U.S. and Vietnamese national anthems.
"I am delighted, as are the members of my delegation, to meet with you and to have you host us here in this impressive setting," Rumsfeld told Tra at the beginning of the meeting. "I hasten to congratulate you and the people of Vietnam for the amazing economic achievements that have occurred just in the last 11 years."
Rumsfeld last visited Hanoi as a private businessman in 1995, the year the United States and Vietnam agreed to normalize relations.
In an evening news conference with reporters traveling with him from Washington, Rumsfeld said he was struck by the dramatic change in Hanoi since his last visit. "In walking around the street, you see the energy, the vitality," he said. "This country has made impressive progress from an economic standpoint."
U.S. and Vietnamese officials signed a landmark agreement May 31 that ends remaining trade barriers between the two countries. This should help Vietnam gain access to the World Trade Organization, an important goal of the country's government.
"The signing of the bilateral trade agreement and the movement of Vietnam towards WTO is a reflection of the fact that they have moved from a demand economy to a market economy," Rumsfeld said.
Another important topic of discussion was the evolving military-to-military relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam. Two Vietnamese soldiers will depart this month to attend English-language training at a U.S. Air Force school in Texas, a senior DoD official traveling with Rumsfeld said.
Officials from both countries are working to find other opportunities for military exchanges under the International Military Education and Training program, particularly in the medical field. "They're very interested in that," the DoD official said. "Even domestically their military has a public health role in some parts of the country."
Another big ticket item discussed was the status of recovery efforts of remains of U.S. servicemembers still missing in action from the Vietnam War. In his evening news conference, Rumsfeld said he and the minister discussed the possibility of using American technology to explore underwater sites that may contain American remains or clues to the whereabouts of such servicemembers' remains.
"Our people will be working with the ministry and others to see if there aren't additional ways that we can further that work," Rumsfeld said.
U.S. leaders believe Vietnam has been cooperative with U.S. efforts to achieve full accounting of American servicemembers. In the past year, the country's government gave U.S. investigators access to the central highlands region, which previously had been off limits to Americans. "It's a productive area, and we appreciate the access we have there," the DoD official said.
But there are still areas in which Vietnam could do more to help, he said. For instance, this official said, the United States wants more access to certain archives.
"They said they'd try to do more. The secretary conveyed how interested we are, and the secretary expressed support," the official said. "We have offered to help them with 300,000 Vietnamese MIA within the country. Whatever archival information we have, we turn it over to them."
The two countries' defense leaders also discussed de-mining efforts in Vietnam and efforts of the U.S. military to share research into health affects of Agent Orange. Agent Orange is a chemical defoliant U.S. forces sprayed extensively during the Vietnam War. Experts later learned the substance was highly carcinogenic, meaning cancer causing.
U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Michael W. Marine said the U.S. will spend $3.7 million in 2007 to further what he called as an already "very robust" de-mining program in Vietnam.
After Rumsfeld's meeting at the Ministry of Defense headquarters, Vietnamese officials gave the secretary a tour of the "Temple of Literature," which is the site of the first university in Vietnam. Parts of the site date from 1070, and the university was founded there in 1076.
A guide explained to Rumsfeld that in the past the central walkway was reserved only for kings and queens. With a smile she then invited Rumsfeld and his party to proceed up the walkway. "We can all be kings today," she said.
The university continued there until 1802. The guide explained that generations of Vietnamese students have come to the site to study and pray for success in exams and academic endeavors. Vietnamese students follow this practice to this day, she said.
While on the grounds of the temple, Rumsfeld placed three sticks of incense in a shrine to Confucius, an important figure in Vietnam. The guide also invited Rumsfeld to beat three times on a giant 300-year-old drum as a symbol of the friendship between the United States and Vietnam.
Later in the day, Rumsfeld visited Detachment 2 of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command. The unit of four U.S. military members and three civilian specialists works to recover remains of the 1,380 U.S. servicemembers missing in this country from the Vietnam War. Other servicemembers are missing in neighboring Laos, Cambodia and China. The team conducts research and oversees investigation and recovery missions several times a year throughout Vietnam and works closely with other teams investigating MIA troops in the other countries.
"I was very pleased to be briefed by a group that is working so hard and so effectively on people missing in action in this country, and as well as in Cambodia and Laos," Rumsfeld said.