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Cablegate: Dasd Clad Visit to Laos Continues Mil-Mil Progress; Lao

VZCZCXRO6863
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHVN #0562/01 2900804
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 160804Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY VIENTIANE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2258
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RHMFIUU/CDR JPAC HICKAM AFB HI
RHHMUND/COMMARFORPAC
RUEHBK/USDAO BANGKOK TH
RUEHBK/CHJUSMAGTHAI BANGKOK TH

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 VIENTIANE 000562

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: MARR MASS MOPS EAID PREL LA
SUBJECT: DASD CLAD VISIT TO LAOS CONTINUES MIL-MIL PROGRESS; LAO
DATT TO DC IN FEBRUARY

REFS: A) 07 Vientiane 0092
- B) 07 State 88478
- C) 07 Vientiane 0625
- D) 07 Vientiane 0725
- E) 07 Vientiane 0790
- F) 07 Vientiane 0914
- G) 08 Vientiane 0410
- H) 08 Vientiane 0485

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: OSD's DASD James Clad may be the highest-ranking
Pentagon policy official to have visited Vientiane since 1975.
While senior DPMO officials involved in the MIA accounting process
have visited regularly, Dr. Clad's visit sends another positive
signal about the improving and broadening bilateral
military-military relationship as the two sides prepare for the
upcoming exchange of defense attaches. The Lao Vice Defense
Minister focused on practical defense cooperation and asked the
United States to do more English language training for Lao military
officials. The Vice Foreign Minister was more interested in
regional politics and raised the U.S.-China-Taiwan triangle with his
OSD visitor. Both officials seemed very comfortable in the
meetings. End summary.

2. (SBU) COMMENT: The U.S.-Lao defense relationship, while modest,
is steadily warming. DASD Clad's meetings with senior leadership
were very positive and friendly - a contrast to interaction in
earlier years. The Lao government gave the visit more than usual
visibility; his call on the Vice Defense Minister ran with a photo
and story on the front page of the "Lao People's Army Times," while
a clip of DASD Clad's visit appeared on the Lao Army's weekly TV
broadcast the next day. This is unusual: normally, Lao Army TV
reports appear several days or even a week behind other media
reports.

3. (SBU) COMMENT continued: The Army newspaper placement and TV
timing appears carefully designed in this controlled media
environment to send a very positive message to the Lao military
community. The message undoubtedly also reached other interested
parties in Vientiane including the ASEAN, Chinese, and Russian
military attaches. (Note: This is the second positive message about
U.S. relations recently in the "Lao People's Army Times:" the
photo/story of the mid-July ceremony at which the Ambassador turned
over PACOM-donated medical supplies to the military hospital in
Vientiane had also appeared on its front page.) End comment.

4. (U) Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Dr. James C. Clad
visited Vientiane October 7-9. Dr. Clad was accompanied by OSD
Southeast Asia Country Director Mr. Dinh M. Lai and PACOM Southeast
Asia Policy Division Deputy Director Captain (Sel.) Pat Kelly, U.S.
Navy. While in Vientiane, Dr. Clad met with key Government of Laos
(GOL) officials including Major General Somphet Thipmala, Vice
Minister, Ministry of National Defense (MND); Vice Foreign Minister
Phongsavath Boupha; and Ambassador Khouanta Phalivong, Director
General of MFA's Europe-Americas Department.

5. (U) Dr. Clad also addressed more than 70 Lao officials from a
broad range of ministries on "U.S. Security Policy in Southeast
Asia" at the Lao Institute of Foreign Affairs (IFA). IFA is the Lao
equivalent of the U.S. National Foreign Affairs Training Center. It
provides training for all Lao diplomats and MFA officials, in
addition to foreign affairs department staff from the provinces.
Finally, Dr. Clad met with unexploded ordnance (UXO) specialists
from the Lao National Regulatory Agency as well as UXO-clearing
NGOs.

Vice Defense Minister: Lao DATT to arrive Feb 2009
--------------------------------------------- -----
6. (SBU) Vice Minister MG Somphet was friendly and outgoing during
the meeting with DASD Clad. MG Somphet cited the improving U.S.-Lao
relationship and mentioned particularly cooperation with JPAC's MIA
accounting mission. He noted that the GOL receives a wide range of
assistance from the USG in poverty reduction, UXO clearance, health,
and trade and investment. MG Somphet also cited broadening
bilateral mil-mil cooperation and was pleased that two MND officers
had just returned from training at the Defense Language Institute in
Texas with improved skills in English, preparatory to their
assignment to the new Defense Attach Office in Washington.

7. (SBU) Dr. Clad began by briefly reviewing the successful start of
U.S.-Vietnam political-military discussions, the inaugural meeting
of which had occurred the day before in Hanoi. He then described
U.S. defense relationship with Asia-Pacific and ASEAN countries,

VIENTIANE 00000562 002 OF 003


including Laos, as vital. The presence of the United States in the
reQn is to work together with countries in Asia and assist them
according to their desires and needs. MG Somphet welcomed the
presence of the United States in the region.

8. (SBU) DASD Clad highlighted the upcoming U.S.-Lao exchange of
defense attaches as a good step in strengthening our mil-mil
relationship. He commended the Lao choice for DATT, COL Kenekeo
Pholsena, as very capable and experienced - already having been the
Lao DATT in Burma (1996-98), Indonesia (2003-06), and China
(2006-present). After Dr. Clad noted our DATT would arrive in
December, MG Somphet said that COL Kenekeo would arrive in
Washington, D.C. by the end of February - after the Lao People's
Army celebrates its 60th anniversary in January 2009.

9. (SBU) MG Somphet highlighted the importance to the Lao military
of improving English language skills because English is the common
language used in ASEAN. He requested that the United States provide
English language training, either via programs in Laos or by sending
more Lao military personnel to attend programs in the United States.
He demurred discussing other specific military cooperation that
might be possible in the future, saying to "leave it to our DATTs to
discuss in detail."

MFA Meetings: Bilateral Dialogue, TIP, China
---------------------------------------------
10. (SBU) VFM Phongsavath and DASD Clad opened by referring to the
recent meeting in New York between EAP Bureau Assistant Secretary
Hill and Lao Deputy Prime Minister/Foreign Minister Dr. Thongloun
Sisoulith and the possibility of A/S Hill participating in future
sessions of the annual U.S.-Lao Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue
(CBD) which began in 2006. VFM Phongsavath described the bilateral
cooperation as going very well with the upcoming DATT exchange as
aQher key step forward. In a separate conversation, MFA DG
Ambassador Khouanta asked if the next session of the CBD might be
held in the United States.

11. (SBU) VFM Phongsavath highlighted, among other issues, the
increasing number of tourists coming to Laos as the country opened
to the outside world. He said the GOL is working to create a good
environment and maintain stability to allow safe visits for these
visitors. Phongsavath noted Laos has borders with five countries
(China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Burma) which he called
"good neighbors" - but added that increased human trafficking has
also resulted from the more open environment. Despite the
difficulty in tracking the movement of traffickers, Laos is working
to arrest those violating Lao laws and put them on trial. He added
that human trafficking was one of the issues discussed in Greater
Mekong Sub-region (GMS) meetings.

12. (SBU) DASD Clad and VFM Phongsavath also discussed the increased
presence of Chinese in Laos, including the large casino built by a
Chinese company at the Boten border crossing in Luang Namtha
Province. Phongsavath, who seemed a bit discomfited about this
issue, explained that, at the time of the original land lease, the
Chinese company had asked that Laos put its border check points
south of the casino complex -- to allow casino patrons from China
"free access" to the area. Phongsavath said the GOL was now in
negotiation with the Chinese about moving the check points back to
the border line to better control those crossing into Lao territory.


13. (SBU) VFM Phongsavath then moved the conversation to a regional
discussion, asking about the recent U.S. decision to sell a new
package of arms to Taiwan and the decision's potential impact on
U.S.-PRC relations. He noted the danger of Taiwan's desire for
independence. The Ambassador emphasized U.S. commitment to a
peaceful resolution of the issue of Taiwan's future, the need to
maintain a balance across the Taiwan Strait, our careful
consideration of the weapons requested by Taiwan, and the defensive
nature of the weapons the United States chose to sell. DASD Clad
added his expectation that the depth and breadth of current military
contacts between the United States and China would help
counterbalance Beijing's short-term disappointment with our
decision.

IFA Presentation: U.S. Security Policy toward ASEAN
--------------------------------------------- ------
14. (SBU) DASD Clad described U.S. security policy in Southeast Asia
to a large audience of GOL officials invited from the Foreign,
National Defense, Public Security, Finance, and other ministries as
well as other GOL organizations and academic institutions. While

VIENTIANE 00000562 003 OF 003


recognizing our difficult past with Laos, Dr. Clad emphasized the
need to look to the future and for the two sides to work together
"in a way that reinforces the independence of Laos." He emphasized
that U.S. policies toward Asia are based on U.S. national interests
which will not change whoever wins the upcoming Presidential
election. Dr. Clad also pointed out that U.S. defense and security
cooperation with ASEAN countries is increasingly multilateral as the
definition of security becomes wider than in the past to include,
for example, emergency assistance to countries hit by natural
disasters.

HAYMOND

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