Bush, Vietnamese Prime Minister Focus on Mutual Security Concerns
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 21, 2005 Today's meeting between President Bush and Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai represents an important step forward as the two countries put the past behind them and build on common ground, the Pentagon's international security affairs chief said today.
Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Peter Rodman said the meeting, during which Khai pledged to work with the United States to promote stability in the region, marks another progression in the two countries' evolving relationship.
Khai became the highest-ranking Vietnamese official to visit the United States since the end of the Vietnam War 30 years ago and the normalization of relations between the two countries 10 years ago.
During their visit this morning in the White House, Bush and Khai discussed security issues and a mutual desire to coordinate in the war on terror, the president said during a news conference following the meeting. Bush accepted Khai's invitation to visit Vietnam next year to participate in the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference. It would be the first presidential trip to Vietnam since President's Clinton's trip there 10 years ago.
Bush thanked the prime minister for his government's willingness to continue to help find the remains of U.S. servicemembers still missing in Vietnam. "It's very comforting to many families here in America to understand that the government is providing information to help close a sad chapter in their lives," he said.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was scheduled to meet with Khai later today.
Rodman, who returned earlier this month from a two-day visit to Hanoi, called today's meetings another step forward in the two countries' relationship as they focus on common interests and concern.
In Vietnam, Rodman met with Defense Minister Pham Van Tra and his vice minister, Nguyen Huy Hieu, to discuss bilateral military relations. He visited a military facility involved in bomb and land mine disposal techniques and met with senior defense and foreign relations officials.
Despite their differences regarding government and human rights, both countries share an interest in maintaining security in Southeast Asia, Rodman said during an interview with the Pentagon Channel and the American Forces Press Service. He noted that with its "significant and capable" military, Vietnam is an important player in the region.
"They're a factor in the security picture of Southeast Asia," he said.
Vietnam is a country "struggling to join the rest of the world" and to tap into the economic boom that passed it by, Rodman said.
In addition, as a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Vietnam "wants to be a part of intelligence sharing and cooperation" among the 10 participating nations, he said.
Although it has not joined, Vietnam is being encouraged to become a part of Bush's Proliferation Security Initiative, Rodman said. The effort, which now includes more than 60 countries, focuses on stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems and the materials used to make them worldwide.
"There's a lot of multilateral cooperation developing among ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)," Rodman said, "and we want Vietnam to be a part of that."
In the meantime, the two countries will continue to develop their relationship "very gradually and in a way that both sides are comfortable with," Rodman said. "We're not pushing, and nothing dramatic is going to happen. But we expect to see more cooperation between the two countries."