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Joint Press Briefing with Secretary Panetta and Vietnamese Minister of Defense Gen. Phung Quang Thanh from Hanoi, Vietnam

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Vietnamese Minister of Defense Gen. Phung Quang Thanh
June 04, 2012

            (Note:  The defense minister's remarks are provided through interpreter.)

            STAFF:  The press conference on the occasion of the official visit of the -- of the Secretary of Defense of the United States to Vietnam now begins.  I would like to invite the two ministers to the podiums. 

            And now I would like to invite Excellency Phung Quang Thanh, the Minister of Defense of Vietnam, to deliver a speech.

            MINISTER PHUNG QUANG THANH:  Ladies and gentlemen, first of all, I would like to warmly welcome the presence here of all Vietnamese and international press and all the reporters to be here to deliver the news about the visit by Secretary of Defense of the United States, Excellency Mr. Leon Panetta.

            We just had discussions of openness, friendliness, about all mutual concerns, issues about the cooperation and relations between the United States and Vietnam.  And we focused on the solutions to the implementation of the memorandum of understanding, was -- which was signed between the two countries at the end of last year -- the memorandum of understanding, which covers some of the following issues.

            The first one is the exchange of high-ranking dialogues between the two countries.  

            The second area, which is search and rescue, and the third area, which is peacekeeping operations of the United Nations.

            The fourth area, which is the military management.

            And lastly is humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. 

            And besides we have some other issues that we are now working on to further the development, which are firstly the war legacy, and the second area, which is the missing in action of the United States soldiers and Vietnamese soldiers in the war.  And we are now trying to exchange the artifacts of our two sides, however, in order to provide more information to the families of the lost soldiers.  And I would like to take this opportunity today to present to Excellency Mr. Secretary, the three letters which are the three artifacts of the United States soldiers in the war.

            And the two sides will continue to cooperate in the fields of bombs and mines clearings, and the United States will continue to support Vietnam with facilities and technology.  And we will also continue to cooperate in the fields of mitigation of Orange Agent -- (inaudible) -- in the areas of some airports and some areas which were affected in the war.

            So we will continue our cooperation between the Vietnam and the United States in the spirit of -- firstly, in the framework of the memorandum of understanding which was signed between the two countries; secondly, in the nontraditional security efforts; and thirdly is on the war legacy, HADR (humanitarian assistance and disaster relief), and search and rescue.  And we both see the great potential of this cooperation between the two countries.  We will continue our bilateral cooperation in the spirit of mutual benefits, mutual trust, for the benefits of the two countries with respect to the sovereignty of the two countries of peace, stability and cooperation and -- for the peace and stability of the region and the world without doing harm to any third parties.  Thank you.

            STAFF:  Thank you, Mr. Minister. 

            Now I would like to invite the Secretary of Defense of the United States, Excellency Mr. Panetta, to deliver his speech.

            SECRETARY LEON PANETTA:  Thank you very much general, and I want to express my deepest thanks to you and to your entire delegation for hosting me on my first trip to Vietnam as secretary of defense.  I also want to thank the Vietnam for giving me the opportunity yesterday to visit Cam Ranh Bay.  It was a first visit of a secretary -- United States secretary of defense to Cam Ranh Bay since the war.  It gave me the opportunity to visit a United States ship in Cam Ranh Bay, the Robert E. Byrd, which is being repaired by a Vietnamese business located in that area.  And we are very thankful for that level of cooperation that has been provided to our ships.

            It's been only 17 years since the normalization of United States-Vietnamese diplomatic relations, but we have taken some very important steps to advance that relationship in the meeting that we had today.  Our meeting today was an opportunity to take pride in how far we've come over this relatively short period in our bilateral defense relationship, a relationship based on mutual trust and understanding.

            And we discussed some very important steps for the future, like how --

            STAFF:  (In Vietnamese.)

            SEC. PANETTA:  Go ahead. 

            STAFF:  (In Vietnamese.)

            SEC. PANETTA:  How we could improve together the effort to fully implement the 2011 memorandum of understanding to advance our defense cooperation.  We also discussed how the U.S. could work with Vietnam in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) defense ministers group to try to improve the maritime rights of all nations.  And we also discussed our shared commitment to a peaceful and prosperous and secure Asia-Pacific region. 

            As we -- as we move forward, General Thanh and I agree to expand some very important cooperation in five key areas: continued high-level dialogue; maritime security; search-and-rescue operations; peacekeeping operations; and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.  I also noted in our discussion the importance of our establishing an Office of Defense Cooperation to enhance our cooperation in these areas and as a signal of the United States' enduring commitment to this important defense relationship for the future. 

            Let me -- let me also take this opportunity to thank the general and his ministry for their long-standing assistance in efforts to identify and locate the remains of our fallen service members and those missing in action in Vietnam.  In particular, I want to thank him for his offer to open up three new areas for remains recovery. 

            And I want to thank him for the letters that he will be giving me.  And I want him to know that we, in turn, are going to provide a diary that was recovered in war that can, hopefully, be given back to that individual's family. 

            Our commitment to the effort to have an accounting of the efforts of both sides that were involved in the war, I think, is critical to our personnel serving today, to make clear that we stand by our pledge to leave no one behind.  Our continued progress in this area, as well as other legacies of war, reflects, I think, without question the growing maturity of our relationship between the United States and Vietnam.

            I want the general to know and the people of Vietnam to know that we will, in the United States, do everything possible to continue to work together to achieve our shared objectives and our common goals.  I believe that the United States and Vietnam can build a better future, not only for our people but for the entire Asia-Pacific region.

            Thank you.  (Applause.)

            STAFF:  Thank you very much, Excellency Secretary Leon Panetta.

            I would like to invite Excellency General Phung Quang Thanh to hand over the artifacts of the war to Excellency Secretary Panetta.  (Applause.)

            SEC. PANETTA:  Thank you very much.

            STAFF:  And now Excellency Secretary Panetta to hand over the artifacts of the Vietnam soldiers to Excellency General Phung Quang Thanh.  (Applause.)

            Thank you very much, Excellency.  And now we will start the Q-and-A session.

            First of all, I would like to invite reporter from the military department.

            Q:  (Through interpreter.)  Excellency, I'm a reporter from the People’s Army Newspaper and have a question to Excellency Secretary Panetta.  So what is your feeling about the visit to Vietnam this time, Excellency?

            SEC. PANETTA:  Well, I have to tell you that for me personally, this has been a very moving experience.  I was an officer in the Army during the Vietnam War era.  And although I never fought here, I had many friends who did and who died in that war.

            A few days ago I was before the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington recognizing the 50th anniversary of that war.  Yesterday I visited Cam Ranh Bay, and today I visit Hanoi and recognize the normalization of our relations and the effort to improve our relations for the future.

            There were many lives lost in that war, both from the United States and from Vietnam.  If we can work together, both of our countries, to develop a better relationship between the United States and Vietnam, all of the sacrifice involved in that war will have proven worthwhile because we will improve the peace and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region.

            STAFF:  (Through interpreter.)  Thank you, Excellency.

            Now I would like to invite a reporter from an international press to raise your question.  And before you raise your question, please tell us your name and which press you are working for.  Thank you.

            STAFF:  First question from Dan De Luce of the -- of the Agence France-Presse.

            Q:  Yes.  First to the Vietnamese defense minister -- did you discuss today the possible sale of U.S. military equipment to Vietnam?  And would your government be open to expanding access to U.S. naval ships in Cam Ranh Bay, including the type of ships and the frequency of those ship visits?  And Secretary Panetta, when you spoke yesterday about wanting to take the defense relationship to a new level, to what degree are you concerned about human rights and threats to freedom of expression here preventing that from happening?

            MIN. THANH:  Thank you for your question.  Firstly, regarding the purchase of U.S. weapons, I would like to inform you that up to the moment the nonlethal weapons restrictions has been lifted but not the lethal weapons restrictions.  And we look forward to the United States to remove the lethal weapons restrictions to Vietnam and this would benefits the two countries.  And this would also have to fully normalize the relations between the two countries. 

            And once when the lethal weapons restrictions is lifted, Vietnam has the demand to buy some facilities from the United States, firstly to repair, to overhaul the weapons that left from the war.  And after that depends on the financial capacity and the demands of our military, who will choose to buy -- to purchase certain kinds of weapons for the potential modernization of our military.

            And regarding the second questions, we welcome the logistic and logistic ships of the United States to be prepared -- to be repaired in the commercial port belonging to (inaudible) of Vietnam.

            And for Vietnam would have the advantage that in the repairing services in commercial ports of Vietnam, we have very skillful workers and the price is also very competitive.  This would help to promote the bilateral relations and cooperation between the two countries and also help us to create more jobs for the Vietnamese workers. 

            SEC. PANETTA:  The purpose of my trip is to do whatever we can to strengthen the defense relationship between the United States and Vietnam.  We have developed a new strategy -- a new defense strategy in the United States, and one of the keys to that strategy is to stress the Asia-Pacific region, but more importantly to stress the importance of developing the capabilities of our Asian partners, such as Vietnam.  And the whole -- the whole thrust of what we discussed in our meeting is to try to take this relationship to a new level with regards to not only a high-level dialogue, but also maritime security and increased Navy visits, to improve the search-and-rescue operations as well as increasing our humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and peacekeeping operations.  And we look forward to providing additional assistance and obviously that additional assistance will in part depend on the progress that is being made on human rights and on other reforms.  But we are very confident that the steps we are taking will in fact provide a stronger relationship and a stronger partnership between the United States and Vietnam in the future. 

            Q:  Hello, sir, my name is -- (inaudible). 

            I come from -- (inaudible) -- daily newspaper.  I'd like to ask you about the fear.  There is some fear that the U.S. military presence, which has been increasing in the region for the past few years might cause anxiety for the whole country.  So what is your response to those people who have this kind of fear? 

            Thank you.

            SEC. PANETTA:  I want all people in this region to recognize that a fundamental goal of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region is to improve the chances for peace, prosperity and security for all nations.  Our goal is to work with all nations in this region, including China, to improve our military-to-military relationships and to help develop the capabilities of all countries to better secure and defend themselves. 

            The United States is a Pacific nation, and we consider ourselves a member of the family of Pacific nations.  And our goal is to work with all of those countries to ensure that we advance the prosperity and security of all nations in this region.  And the key to that is that we have a shared -- a shared group of values and principles that all countries ought to abide by, that we will always continue to follow international rules, international regulations and an international rule of law.  If we all do that, then I think we can achieve the goal of a better and more secure region.

            STAFF:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  Now would like to invite an international reporter to raise your question.

            MR. LITTLE:  I understand this will be the last question.  Julian Barnes of the Wall Street Journal.

            Q:  To the minister of defense:  Do you see -- do you think Asian nations should have to make a choice between close relations with China and with the U.S.?  And do you worry about provoking China through closer relations or access to the United States? 

            And to Mr. Panetta:  Some Asian countries have expressed the worry that the United States new strategy could potentially destabilize the region.  You know, given your last answer, how can you build a partnership without undermining regional security you’re trying to secure or souring relations with China?

            MIN. THANH:  Thanks for your question.

            Thank you for your question.  And I would like to inform you about the foreign policy of Vietnam.  This is the foreign policy of independence and sovereignty, and we do not depend on any country.  And this is also the foreign policy of representation and multilateralization of our relations with all other countries.  And for Vietnam, we would like to expand the defense operations with all countries for peace and stability of the region and the world.

            And Vietnam would like to have fine relations with neighboring countries, with regional countries and with the major powers of the world, and especially for the United States and for China.  We look forward to having a stable and long-standing relations and cooperation for peace and stability.

            Vietnam would never go with one country to against another.  And we all know that China is a close neighboring country of Vietnam, which say a lot of similarities.  China is a comprehensive and a strategic partnership of Vietnam.  In the period of 16 months and -- (inaudible) -- between the two countries.  The relations between the two parties, between the two governments, between the two people and between the two armed forces is developing very fast.

            And we also look forward to having a very fine defense cooperation with the United States, in the spirit of friendship, stability, cooperation and for the mutual benefits of the two armed forces -- and comprehensively.  Thank you.

            SEC. PANETTA:  And the goal of the United States -- let me make clear -- is to advance exactly what the general referred to, advance the independence and the sovereignty of all nations in this region.  It is in the interest of stability -- it's in the interest of stability to have a strong Vietnam, a strong Indonesia, a strong Philippines, a strong Singapore and strong nations throughout the Asia-Pacific region.  Frankly, the most destabilizing situation would be if we had a group of weak nations and only the United States and China were major powers in this region. 

            So the key to future stability, to future prosperity, to the future in which all of our people can enjoy a better life - the key to that is ensuring that all nations develop their capability, develop their economy, develop their trade and develop the kind of relationship that will bring these nations together, not apart.  That's the goal of the United States, and that's the reason I'm here in Vietnam.

            STAFF:  Thank you, Excellencies, and now I would like to announce that we will conclude the press conference on occasion of the visit by Secretary Panetta to Socialist Republic of Vietnam.  Thank you, Excellencies.