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Joint Press Conference with Secretary Gates and Gen. Thanh from Hanoi, Vietnam

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Vietnam Minister of Defense Gen. Phung Quang Thanh
October 11, 2010

                MODERATOR:  (Translated.) As you may know, at the invitation of General Phung Quang Thanh, the minister of defense of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the Secretary of Defense of the United States Robert Gates paid an official visit to Vietnam and today they had talks. And now we'd like to invite the two ministers to meet with the press. 

                You have the floor, the ministers.

                GEN. THANH:  (Translated.)  Minister -- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, at the invitation of the Defense Ministry of Vietnam, Secretary of Defense of the United States Robert Gates and the delegation of the U.S. defense paid an official visit to Vietnam and -- (audio break) -- attend the ADMM-Plus [Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting Plus] organized for the first time in Hanoi. 

                And the official visit by Mr. Robert Gates, we have had very straightforward and friendly talks with fruitful outcomes, mainly bilateral cooperation between the two defense -- our defense-to-defense relations and overcoming the legacies of the war. 

                Secretary Robert Gates expressed strong support for Vietnam in successfully organizing the ADMM-Plus for the first time, which will take place tomorrow.  We are satisfied that defense-to-defense cooperation has made new progress in the first years with the increase of exchanges, naval forces, search and destroy, search and rescue, exchange of training officials, our medical corps, our exchange of visits.  And we also made a proposal that the two defense academies of the two sides will conduct exchanges and cooperation in theoretical research and exchange of students for overcoming the legacy of the war. 

                Vietnam supports the U.S. in the MIA [missing in action] efforts on the humanitarian grounds.  There were 33 locations which were rather sensitive on the military side or the confidential side under the management of Vietnam.  And we conducted unilateral excavation only, but recently we worked with the U.S. for joint operation in seven locations now.  For the remaining six sites, we will consider and transfer to the United States for joint search operation and for the remaining we will consider. 

                We have agreed that we will continue with the efforts of de-mining and the U.S. has responded positively in order to minimize the losses by the civilians.  And the U.S. will also help with other issues like the detoxification of Dioxin, like Bien Hoa Airport, Da Nang Airport, Phu Cat and some other areas. 

                Robert Gates also expressed support for the fruitful outcomes of the ADMM-Plus in order to maintain the environmental peace, cooperation and development in Southeast Asia as well as in the Asia Pacific in each country’s interest and the whole region’s interest. 

                SEC. GATES:  I’d first like to thank Prime Minister Dung and General Thanh -- (off mike).  We all take pride in how far our nations have come in 15 years since normalization and these meeting were both an opportunity to discuss the strong state of our bilateral defense relationship, areas for future dialogue and cooperation, and our shared commitment for a peaceful and secure Asia. 

                I’d also like to thank General Thanh and his ministry for their assistance in efforts to account for our missing in the war.  We look forward to even greater cooperation in this area as our relationship grows. 

                I also pledge that the U.S. military will continue to offer resources and technical expertise to Vietnam as it addresses the same sacred task with respect to its missing.  As I mentioned in my remarks at the Vietnam National University this morning, the strong relationship we have today is born of our strict shared efforts to address this and other legacies from the war. 

                Moving forward, we specifically identified information exchanges, maritime security, search and rescue, peacekeeping -- humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as areas in which to grow our collaboration. 

                I’m particularly optimistic about expanding our educational exchanges which will train the next generation of our military leaders to better understand one another and cooperate for the betterment of -- (off mike). 

                Tomorrow, General Thanh and I will both attend the first ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] Defense Ministry plus meeting.  Vietnam has provided valuable leadership in helping to establish this gathering.  And through its very capable chairmanship of ASEAN this year, through this meeting we move to a higher level of regional security dialogue, the defense principles formally coming together for the first time to build concrete cooperation on a range of security issues.  By allowing us more regularly to exchange views and develop the operational infrastructure of the future efforts to inform -- (inaudible) -- and transparency -- (off mike). 

                Thank you very much.

                MODERATOR:  (Translated.)  Questions from the people -- (inaudible).

                Q     (Translated.)  (Inaudible) -- newspaper and I have a question for Secretary Robert Gates.  Can you give us your assessment about the role of Vietnam’s Ministry of Defense in the process of ADMM-Plus and can you tell us about the future cooperation between the U.S. and Vietnam in finding the Vietnamese people missing in action?

                SEC. GATES:  (Off mike) -- to congratulate the minister for -- (off mike) -- in our meeting on the leadership role -- (off mike) -- Vietnam and he personally have played in putting together this meeting and the ASEAN defense ministers plus meeting tomorrow. 

                When he first approached me about this quite some time ago, I immediately responded that I would come to Hanoi.  And I just told him in our meeting that I did so because I believed it would be useful in terms of both of our bilateral relationship as well as regional cooperation more broadly. 

                In terms of searching for the missing, we are prepared to do whatever we can to help the Vietnamese government search for the Vietnamese who have been missing since the war.  It is as sacred responsibility for them as it is for us.  We are prepared to share our technology and whatever other technologies we have -- and whatever other capabilities we might have in order to help them be successful in this effort.

                MODERATOR:  Bill Stewart (sp).

                Q     Yes.  I have a question to both of you.  Could you please each address your concerns about assertive Chinese behavior in the South China Sea and the general territorial disputes and explain to us what you think you can do regarding that, including tomorrow at the ASEAN forum.  Thank you.

                SEC. GATES:  Well, first of all, this subject did not come up in our meetings today, but as we have made clear in the past, the U.S. has a longstanding national interest in freedom of navigation and open access to Asia’s maritime commons.  We believe that -- we don’t take sides in this.  We don’t have any territorial claims of our own, but we believe that these issues are best resolved through negotiation and collaboration and within a framework of customary international law, above all the United Nations Law of the Sea. 

                GEN. THANH:  (Translated.)  As Secretary Gates has answered, during the talks between the two defense ministries of Vietnam and the United States, the topic of Eastern Sea was not discussed, but as you ask we are willing to take that question.  Now, the issue of Eastern Sea is the disputes among a number of countries and a number of parties, and that is an outstanding issue left behind by history and it is our consistent policy that we deal with the issue via peaceful means on the basis of international law that the -- (inaudible) -- clause in 1982 and the DOC, “Declaration of the Conduct,” of parties on Eastern Sea that the China -- and China has signed with countries in the region.  And we’re now moving toward the establishment of “Code of Conduct,” COC, in order to maintain the environment of peace, stability for cooperation and development without use of force or threat to use of force to use the disputes in the Eastern Sea.  Thank you.

                MODERATOR:  The lady. 

                Q     (Translated.)  Tu Hihn (sp) from the VOV, the Voice of Vietnam.  And the question for Secretary Robert Gates.  As a part of ASEAN, what the U.S. will do in order to have nice relations between ASEAN and other partners like China, Japan or Korea so that we can establish a security balance in the Pacific as you have proposed and -- (audio break).

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think the key for all the nations, as you mentioned before, for those involved in ADMM Plus is to develop ways in which we can work more closely together in a cooperative and collaborative manner in terms of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, in terms of maritime security, in terms of advancing the interests of all that are involved and ensuring that when there are disputes, they are resolved peacefully through negotiation or arbitration. 

                I think the meeting tomorrow is a new step forward in developing new mechanisms through which that kind of cooperative and collaborative effort (inaudible) problems that can be addressed. 

                Q     (Inaudible) -- with Kiro News.  Thank you for this opportunity.  My question -- for both of you.  The recent disputes between Japan and China -- (inaudible) -- China Sea, but the tensions remain high -- (inaudible).  Although two ministries have -- (inaudible) -- Japan.  How can you -- (inaudible) -- each side -- (inaudible)?

                SEC. GATES:  Well, for my part, I would say first of all, as I just responded to the other question -- (off mike) -- all these disputes should be solved peacefully and through arbitration and negotiation. That said, as I said last week or two weeks ago brought the -- (off mike) -- of the United States has objectives -- (inaudible) -- security obligations it has -- (inaudible). 

                GEN. THANH:  (Translated.)  As for your question, we believe that this is the issue between China and Japan bilaterally, maybe hope that the two sides would exercise self-restraint and will settle the issue via peaceful means without taking enemy measures to further complicate the situation in the East Asia or Asia Pacific region.  Now, we’re living in an interdependent economic environment.  And if there’s anything happening or threatening to maritime security, it is not only affecting countries -- (audio break). 

                Thank you for your question.

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