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Carter: U.S., Vietnam Committed to Defense Relationship

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The United States and Vietnam are committed to deepening their defense relationship, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said yesterday in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi during a news conference with Defense Minister Gen. Phung Quang Thanh.

Carter also met with Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang and General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong as part of his 10-day trip to meet with Asia-Pacific partner nations and affirm the U.S. commitment to the region.

The two nations have come a long way over the past 20 years, Carter said.

The Next 20 Years

“As the general and I reaffirmed in our meeting today, we're both committed to deepening our defense relationship and laying the groundwork for the next 20 years of our partnership,” he said, adding that a joint vision statement signed yesterday will help the nations do just that.

“Following last year's decision by the United States to partially lift the ban of arms sales to Vietnam, our countries are now committed for the first time to operate together, step up our defense trade and work toward co-production,” Carter said.

This action, and Carter’s stop in Haiphong this week, where he was the first U.S. defense secretary to visit a Vietnamese military base and tour a Vietnamese coast guard vessel, underscores the “continued positive trajectory of the U.S.-Vietnam defense relationship,” he said, “especially in maritime security.”

Earlier this year in Da Nang, the U.S. and Vietnamese navies practiced using the code for unplanned encounters at sea, Carter said.

Peacekeeping Training

The United States will provide $18 million to the Vietnamese coast guard to purchase American Metal Shark patrol vessels, the secretary added, and the U.S. is helping to stand up a new peacekeeping training center for the Vietnamese military so they can participate in peacekeeping operations around the world.

“I'm pleased to announce today that the Department of Defense will assign a peacekeeping expert to our embassy here in Hanoi to work with the Vietnamese Defense Ministry to help prepare for their inaugural deployment to U.N. peacekeeping operations,” Carter said.

The secretary also returned two war artifacts to the Vietnamese people: a diary and a belt that belonged to a Vietnamese soldier. He said the U.S. military hopes to see the artifacts returned to their rightful owner or his family.

“With this exchange, we continue to help heal the wounds of our past,” the secretary said.

Commitment to Vietnam

In a statement summarizing Carter’s other activities yesterday, Pentagon officials said he reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to Vietnam and the Asia-Pacific region, reiterating U.S. support for a regional architecture that allows all Asia-Pacific countries to rise and prosper.

In his meetings, Carter discussed progress on legacy-of-war issues, support for Vietnamese peacekeeping training and operations, and cooperation on search-and-rescue, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

The secretary and his counterparts expressed a desire to leverage the joint vision statement to open the door to greater military-to-military cooperation that would allow the United States and Vietnam to more effectively work together to promote regional and global security, the statement said.

Maritime Security

Carter also discussed maritime security issues and the South China Sea. He pledged continued U.S. support to build Vietnamese maritime security capacity and underscored U.S. commitment to a peaceful resolution to disputed claims there made in accordance with international law.

“With this visit,” Carter said during the news conference, “we continue to lay the foundation for a bright future. With our work together, we continue to strengthen the region's security architecture so all our countries and others all around the region can continue to rise and prosper.”

(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @PellerinDoDNews)

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