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U.S.-Vietnam Cooperation On Agent Orange Issues

Scot Marciel, Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Statement before the Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee
Washington, DC
May 15, 2008

U.S.-Vietnam Cooperation on Issues Related to Agent Orange

Chairman Faleomavaega, Ranking Member Manzullo, and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for inviting me to testify today on the topic of United States engagement with Vietnam on issues related to Agent Orange and its contaminant, dioxin.

Overall Relationship

Before delving into specifics, I would like to briefly comment on overall relations between the United States and Vietnam. Since reestablishing diplomatic relations in 1995, we have made major strides in our bilateral relationship, which have enabled us to move forward on a range of issues as well as more fruitfully discuss areas of difference. Our strengthened ties have enabled us to make progress on issues ranging from trade liberalization to protections of religious freedoms to nuclear safety. Our success in recovering and accounting for the remains of Americans lost during the Vietnam conflict, with 627 Americans repatriated to date, deserves special mention as an example of joint collaborative efforts. Vietnam's non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council opens a new avenue for bilateral dialogue.

In areas where the United States and Vietnam do not always see eye-to-eye, our fortified relationship empowers us to speak openly about difficult issues, seek common ground, and work together constructively.

We also implement a broad foreign assistance program in Vietnam as part of our growing relationship, which includes programs to strengthen economic reform and good governance, encourage civil society, promote health and security, and address the consequences of conflict. Our funding targets genuine humanitarian needs in Vietnam, including HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, support for those with disabilities, combating human trafficking, development in the Central Highlands, disaster mitigation and relief, and controlling avian influenza.

Vietnam is one of fifteen focus countries under the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and in Fiscal Year 2007, we gave $63 million for HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and treatment.

We also provide assistance to Vietnamese individuals with disabilities, without regard to their cause. Since 1989, the United States has funded approximately $43 million in programs in Vietnam to support people with disabilities, including significant contributions from the Leahy War Victims Fund.

Background on Agent Orange Cooperation

Turning to the topic of this hearing, Agent Orange has long been a sensitive issue for both countries, and we have differed over the lasting impact of the defoliant on Vietnam. However, in recent years, we have moved beyond finger-pointing and engaged in practical, constructive cooperation. With the support of additional funds from Congress, we are moving ahead in a multilateral effort with other donors to help Vietnam address environmental contamination and related health concerns at former dioxin storage sites.

We understand and acknowledge that the Government of Vietnam and the Vietnamese people are concerned with the perceived negative health effects of exposure to Agent Orange and its contaminant, dioxin. At the same time, the United States does not recognize any legal liability for damages alleged to be related to Agent Orange. We continue to stress that discussion of the effects of Agent Orange needs to be based on credible scientific research that meets international standards.

U.S.-Vietnam Collaborative Efforts

The U.S. government has been engaged substantively in joint cooperation with the government of Vietnam on the issue of dioxin contamination since 2001. U.S. government assistance is provided in the spirit of cooperation, with the hope of strengthening the scientific capacity and infrastructure of Vietnam's research institutions and improving the capacity of the government of Vietnam to protect the environment and promote the public health for future generations.

Examples of our ongoing bilateral cooperation on Agent Orange include:

* Formation of a Joint Advisory Committee composed of U.S. and Vietnamese government officials and experts to review possible joint activities, including scientific cooperation, technical assistance, and environmental remediation related to dioxin contamination. We are encouraged by the outcome of the Committee's first two meetings in 2006 and 2007, which continued bilateral technical dialogue and resulted in consensus recommendations for future cooperation on environmental, health, and capacity building projects.

* Joint Workshops conducted by the U.S. Department of Defense and the Vietnamese Ministry of Defense at which the DOD shared U.S. government remediation experiences and provided detailed historical information about Agent Orange loading and storage operations in Vietnam.

* A five-year, $2 million project the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carried out with the Vietnamese Academy of Science and Technology and Ministry of Defense to build capacity for laboratory analysis of dioxin and related chemicals and site evaluation at the Danang Airport, which resulted in the November 2005 opening of the Vietnamese Academy of Science and Technology-EPA Joint Dioxin Research Analytical Laboratory in Hanoi.

* Provision of $400,000 by the State Department and EPA for technical assistance for mitigation planning in Danang, specifically for evaluating the site with the goal of containing the dioxin and preventing contamination of the surrounding area.

In recognition of the U.S.-Vietnam shared desire to collaborate on Agent Orange, President Bush and Vietnam's President Triet declared in a November 17, 2006 Joint Statement that "further joint efforts to address the environmental contamination near former dioxin storage sites would make a valuable contribution to the continued development of their bilateral relations."

Future Agent Orange Projects

We are continuing to build on these cooperative efforts with the support of Congress. In May 2007, President Bush signed an FY2007 supplemental appropriations bill that included $3 million to be used for "environmental remediation and health activities" at "hot spots" in Vietnam.

To prepare for implementation programs supported by these new funds, the U.S. government conducted an inter-agency review that endorsed using the funds for environmental remediation, or "clean up," of dioxin "hotspots" in Vietnam, in addition to humanitarian assistance, capacity building, and scientific cooperation.

The newly established USAID Mission in Vietnam is the lead implementing entity coordinating and implementing efforts to utilize the $3 million in supplemental funds. Activities to be funded with the first $1 million include: financing health and rehabilitation activities in Danang and establishing an Agent Orange program coordinator within the USAID Mission to manage projects. We will use the balance of the funds to finance health and environmental activities. The USAID Mission has already identified health-related projects in the Danang area for possible funding, and USAID and the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi are consulting with their Vietnamese counterparts on the details. USAID is now advertising to fill the coordinator position.

Recognizing Other Donors' Support

This U.S. assistance complements an increasingly multilateral approach to responding to Agent Orange and dioxin in Vietnam and encourages participation from a variety of other sources. The U.S. government shares the goals of a clean, safe environment -- and of general disability assistance -- with many donor partners. The Ford Foundation and the United Nations Development Program are examples of leaders in this area. Several other new donors, including the Governments of Greece and New Zealand and The Atlantic Philanthropies, are considering related assistance. U.S. engagement has catalyzed these efforts, and we look forward to coordinating our projects with those of our partners.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we will continue to pursue constructive ways to work with the Government of Vietnam and other donors to address concerns related to Agent Orange and dioxin. Our efforts will continue to focus on supporting Vietnamese efforts to ensure a safe environment and assisting Vietnamese living with disabilities, regardless of their cause. In particular, we will seek to work with Vietnamese scientists and health experts to address Vietnam's concern over human exposure to dioxin and other toxins in the environment; and support Vietnam's promotion of good prenatal care to minimize disabilities.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to appear before you today. I welcome your questions.

Released on May 15, 2008

ENDS

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