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Rumsfeld in Vietnam to Meet With Leaders, See MIA-Recovery Efforts

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 4, 2006 – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld arrived here this evening to meet with Vietnamese leaders on a host of issues and to visit a U.S. team painstakingly investigating the whereabouts of the nearly 2,000 American servicemembers still unaccounted for from the Vietnam War.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld speaks with Maj. Gen. Phan Thanh Lan, director, External Relations Department, after being welcomed to Vietnam, June 4. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, USN

(Click photo for screen-resolution image)

"We appreciate what (the Vietnamese) do with respect to missing-in-action activities, and I'll be having lunch with the U.S. team that works that set of issues, which, of course, are important to us," Rumsfeld said aboard the airplane flying him here from Singapore, where he had been attending a meeting of defense ministers from Asian and Pacific countries.

The United States and Vietnam have a developing military-to-military relationship, the secretary said. He stressed that ties should improve gradually, at a rate that's comfortable for both countries. Four U.S. Navy ships have made port calls in Vietnam over the past four years, and two Vietnamese servicemembers will attend a U.S. military school in Texas starting later this month under the International Military Education and Training program.

This is Rumsfeld's fourth visit to Vietnam, but his first as defense secretary. He visited the country twice in the mid-1960s as a congressman from Illinois, and again in 1995 as a private citizen.

The secretary refused to speculate on what relationships between the two countries might look like in five years.

"The relationship ought to go where the two countries want it to go, and it has to be comfortable for both countries," he said. "And for me to be laying out a five-year plan unilaterally isn't helpful."

Since the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Vietnam 11 years ago, the two countries have made steady progress in cooperation. Then-Defense Secretary William Cohen visited the country in March 2000, and President Clinton visited in November 2000. More recently, Vietnamese Minister of National Defense Pham Van Tra visited Washington in late 2003. Rumsfeld said his visit here this week is a result of an invitation Tra extended when the two men met in 2003.

In a major breakthrough, U.S. and Vietnamese officials May 31 signed a trade agreement that ends remaining trade barriers between the two countries. Rumsfeld said this agreement is a major step toward Vietnam being accepted into the World Trade Organization, which is a goal of the country's national government.

"I've been impressed with the Vietnamese people and with their economy. They've got a very good growth rate. They have a sizeable population, and they're industrious," Rumsfeld said today. "And I think it would be a good thing to have them in the WTO."

Recent improved cooperation between the U.S. and Vietnam proved invaluable during relief operations following the December 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean. During the tsunami relief efforts, the Vietnamese gave United States aircraft blanket overflight rights, which cut the time it took to get relief to many areas. "It's really very helpful to have relationships like this so that when there is a humanitarian need like that that we're able to do it," Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld said he has no set "wish list" of things he'd like to see come out of this visit; his goal here is to further cordial relations with the Vietnamese government. "What we want to see is a relationship between our country and Vietnam evolve in a way that is comfortable to them and comfortable to us," he said. "And it has been doing that over recent years, and I suspect it'll continue along that path."

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