Cablegate: Vietnam's "Traditional Friends"

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

REFS: A. 01 Hanoi 2817 B. 02 Hanoi 716

C. 02 Hanoi 1181 D. 02 Hanoi 589
E. 01 Hanoi 3098

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Vietnam has strived to maintain good
ties with a number of the world's most troubling states,
including Cuba, Iraq, North Korea (DPRK), Iran, Libya,
Sudan, and Syria. With the exception of Sudan and Syria,
all have embassies in Hanoi. These relations are largely an
outgrowth of the material, financial, political, and moral
support given to Vietnam during the War years. Apart from
trade with Iraq, most of the countries offer little, if any,
value economically to Vietnam. Politically, these countries
also contribute little as Vietnam continues its push toward
the mainstream of the international diplomatic community.
The state media and GVN officials nonetheless continue a
drumbeat of support and undertake regular high-level
official visits with most of these diplomatic partners. END


2. (SBU) In accordance with a policy adopted in 1991 at
the Seventh Party Congress, Vietnam has moved steadily to
conduct a foreign policy that has at its core the goal of
establishing and maintaining good diplomatic and economic
relations with every nation. In summing up 2002, Foreign
Minister Nguyen Dy Nien reaffirmed that "Vietnam is prepared
to be a friend and reliable partner of all countries in the
international community." In perhaps one of the more
interesting examples of this track, Vietnam maintains
cordial diplomatic relations with Israel (which maintains a
small embassy in Hanoi) while showing great sympathy and
respect towards Yasser Arafat (who has visited Vietnam many
times) and the Palestine Authority, whose ambassador is the
dean of the Hanoi diplomatic corps and has served here
nearly 20 years (ref A).


3. (SBU) According to Doan Ngoc Boi, Deputy Director
General of the MFA's West Asia and Africa Department (the
MFA section that covers most of the Middle Eastern countries
of concern), the MFA leadership understands the USG's views
about what are variously called "states of concern" and
"rogue states," but the MFA is charged with carrying out the
GVN's policy of maintaining good diplomatic relations "with
as many countries as possible." Vietnam is "generally
sympathetic" to the US-led war on terrorism, but "this does
not affect our relations with traditional friends -- these
days, we have no enemies," he added.


4. (SBU) Cuba and Vietnam have a close and long-standing
relationship and claim to share a kindred revolutionary
spirit. Exemplifying Cuba's importance to Vietnam, Prime
Minister Pham Van Khai visited in October 2002. In 2001,
Foreign Minister Nien and then-Vice President Binh also
visited. Cuban President Castro has come to Vietnam twice,
in 1973 and 1995, and other high-level visits have occurred
at a regular pace. Tran Thanh Huan, senior expert in the
MFA's Latin America section, predicted that Communist Party
of Vietnam General Secretary Nong Duc Manh might visit Cuba
during 2003. In addition, Vietnam expects a reciprocal
visit from Cuba's foreign minister. However, no dates have
been set for either visit, he added.

5. (SBU) In a briefing to the diplomatic community
following the Prime Minister's visit, MFA Assistant Foreign
Minister (AFM) Nguyen Duc Hung described the Cuba - Vietnam
relationship as "traditional, long-standing, and brotherly."
In addition, AFM Hung said that the two countries "continue
to look for ways to help each other." AFM Hung explained
that Cuba has assisted Vietnam in the areas of medicine,
medical training, and Spanish language programs. During the
Prime Minister's visit, Vietnam agreed to sell additional
rice to Cuba, AFM Hung noted. In 2002, Vietnam exported
125,000 tons of rice to Cuba; the total volume for 2003 is
expected to rise to 150,000 tons, according to a press
report. Another press report claimed that the rice will be
sold on "easy payment terms." AFM Hung confirmed to poloff
on the margins of the briefing that Cuba would pay for the
rice with "hard currency."

6. (SBU) The MFA's Huan separately noted that the GVN is
"paying more attention to developing the bilateral economic
potential." In addition to rice, Huan said Vietnam would
like to export tea, footwear, and textiles to Cuba. Vietnam
"will never forget" the help Cuba provided during Vietnam's
"revolutionary struggle," including hospitals, roads, and
other materiel support. Two-way trade, however, remains
modest, at about USD 50 million per year. Huan predicted
that if the USG were to lift the sanctions on Cuba, trade
would improve "substantially." He said that Vietnam is
"totally against" sanctions and that "only the U.S." views
Cuba as a "rogue state." There is no evidence that Cuba
possesses or is attempting to acquire nuclear or chemical
weapons, Huan added. The head of the Vietnam-Cuba
Friendship Association on January 29 said that Vietnam
"strongly condemns the US outdated embargo against Cuba and
demands an immediate end."


7. (SBU) Unique in its relations with the various
countries of concern, Vietnam has a significant trade
relationship with Iraq. The MFA's Boi said that in 2001 two-
way trade was about USD 750 million. While final figures
for 2002 have not yet been compiled, he added that two-way
trade may have reached USD one billion. Boi reiterated that
all two-way trade activity is "within the UN framework." He
admitted that Vietnam still owes Iraq about USD 100 million
from the Vietnam War-era. He said that Vietnam would like
to increase humanitarian aid as a way to pay the debt, but
is hampered by the UN resolutions. According to an Egyptian
emboff, the "strong relations" between the two countries
make it "unlikely" Iraq would ever attempt to collect on
this debt. The Egyptian emboff added that Saddam Hussein
felt a "special warmth" toward Vietnam since Vietnamese
doctors helped his son recover from a near fatal automobile
accident several years ago.

8. (SBU) While the GVN "agrees" that Iraq should carry out
the appropriate UN resolutions, Boi reiterated that the GVN
opposes any military action against Iraq and "fully
supports" the "sovereignty and territorial integrity" of
Iraq. In addition, the GVN has stated "on many occasions"
that internal issues "should be decided only by the Iraqi
people." A US attack on Iraq "would also not be helpful" to
the US-Vietnam relationship, he predicted.


9. (SBU) Vietnam's relations with the DPRK have seen
several ups and downs in recent years. Pham Tien Van,
Deputy Director for MFA's Asia I bureau, noted that Vietnam
and the DPRK have "traditional ties" dating back to the
1950s. Van described the bilateral relationship as
"excellent" from that era through the Vietnam War. He added
that Vietnam remained "very grateful" for the moral and
materiel support the DPRK had provided. In the years
following the war, relations were strained, according to
Van, because of Vietnam's actions in Cambodia. At the time,
the DPRK sided with the PRC in opposing Vietnam's occupation
of Cambodia. Relations took a further nosedive in 1992 when
Vietnam, as part of its policy of reaching out to the world
community, established diplomatic relations with the
Republic of Korea (ROK). Ngo Xuan Binh, Director for the
Center for Korean Studies, noted that the DPRK subsequently
had made some "tentative overtures" to some western
countries and had "slowly become a little less isolated."
In that respect, Binh opined that perhaps the DPRK had been
influenced by Vietnam's own expanding foreign policy.

10. (SBU) Illustrating the bilateral relationship's upward
trend, recent activity has included: (1) the reconvening of
the Joint Economic Committee in October 1991 for the first
time since Vietnam established diplomatic relations with the
ROK in 1992; (2) a visit by GVN President Tran Duc Luong in
May 2002 (ref C); and (3) other bilateral exchanges, such as
the visit to Vietnam by the Chairman of the DPRK National
Assembly in 2001 and the visit to the DPRK in October 2002
by General Le Van Dung, Director of the General Political
Department of the People's Army of Vietnam. Binh emphasized
that "Vietnam's relations with the DPRK are strong and
should continue to improve."

11. (SBU) The Korean Studies Center's Binh separately
opined that the recent increase in bilateral activity
stemmed from DPRK recognition of the success Vietnam had
achieved with its market reforms. Binh admitted, however,
that "it is very hard to know what they think." Binh also
lamented that the DPRK's economy is in "such bad shape that
it has little, if anything to offer" in terms of trade.
Thus, the potential for two-way trade, currently at a "very
low level" is "not good," even under barter arrangements, he
predicted. The MFA's Van said that Vietnam would continue
to assist the DPRK, noting that in 2002, Vietnam had donated
5,000 tons of rice. Van added that, given the DPRK's dire
financial situation, it was "unlikely" that Vietnam would
collect on the USD 10 million debt the DPRK owed Vietnam
from a 1996 rice "sale."

12. (SBU) Van noted that "more stability" on the Korean
Peninsula would also have a positive impact on Vietnam's
relations with both the DPRK and the ROK. He added that
Vietnam wanted to see the region "nuclear-free." A January
10 statement by the MFA further stated that Vietnam hoped
all parties would "exercise restraint" and engage in
dialogue that will result in "peace, stability, and a
nuclear-free status." Van admitted, however, that Vietnam
was not "well placed" for an active mediation role in the
Korean Peninsula, while admitting that, during his visit to
the DPRK, President Luong had passed a message to his hosts
from the ROK leadership.


13. (SBU) From Vietnam's perspective, Iran remains one of
its trusted and traditional friends. The MFA's Boi
described the bilateral political relationship as
"excellent," noting that "we have many common views and
interests, including a peaceful solution to the Iraq
crisis." Boi added that Iran had even made overtures about
becoming a "dialogue partner" with ASEAN (ref E).

14. (SBU) In 1995, Vietnam's president visited Iran, while
in 1996 Iran's president visited Vietnam. Nong Duc Manh,
then-chairman of the National Assembly and now General
Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, visited Iran in

1999. More recently, President Luong visited in October
2002 and, with his hosts, signed several agreements on
economic, technical, and cultural cooperation. President
Luong invited the Iranian president to make a return visit,
but Boi declined to predict when such a visit will take

15. (SBU) Economic activity lags behind the political
relationship. Boi lamented that, despite "great economic
potential," two-way trade is running at only about USD 40
million. Boi suggested that the main factors inhibiting a
stronger economic relationship are: (1) Iran has established
stronger links with other countries that export products
similar to Vietnam (e.g. rice and textiles); and (2) Iranian
and Vietnamese businessmen "do not understand" each other
well. Boi opined that a deterioration in the Iraq situation
could have a positive impact on the Vietnam - Iran economic
relationship, because if Vietnamese businessmen "lose" the
Iraq market, they will make stronger efforts to penetrate
the Iran market.


16. (SBU) The MFA's Boi described relations with Libya as
"good to normal." While the two countries have diplomatic
missions in each other's capitals, there is "not much"
bilateral activity. Boi said that Vietnam is "grateful" to
Libya for the political and economic support provided during
the Vietnam War and that the two countries share a
"revolutionary background." Boi added that Vietnam also
watches carefully over the welfare of approximately 3,000
Vietnamese contract workers in Libya employed by a Korean
company for a large irrigation project. Two-way trade is
"under USD 10 million" and unlikely to increase more than
incrementally in the foreseeable future, Boi predicted.
Factors inhibiting the development of increased economic
relations, according to Boi, include: (1) a small market;
(2) strong competition from the PRC; (3) distance; and (4) a
harsh climate.

17. (SBU) A December 2002 visit by a Libyan parliamentary
delegation received significant coverage in Vietnam's state-
controlled media. Foreign Minister Nien told his Libyan
guests that their visit "demonstrated Libya's desire to
strengthen ties with Vietnam." Deputy Prime Minister Vu
Khoan urged both countries to work hard so that economic
ties could "reach their potential," according to a press
report. Boi noted, however, that no other major visits are
planned over the next year.

--------------------------------------------- --------
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18 (SBU) According to the MFA's Boi, the offshore
ambassadors of Sudan and Syria (in Jakarta and Beijing,
respectively) have only ever visited Hanoi to present their
credentials. An Egyptian emboff said that the Sudanese
ambassador had expressed little interest in advancing
Vietnam - Sudan relations during his December 2002 visit.
Assistant Foreign Minister Nguyen Phu Binh visited Sudan in
2001, during a trip that also included Tanzania and Angola.
Two-way trade between the two countries is "maybe USD one
million," Boi estimated. Boi added that the one area for
potential cooperation is in agriculture. Vietnam plans to
send agricultural experts to Sudan to help improve rice-
growing techniques in 2003. Boi commented that Vietnam was
"grateful" to Sudan for the "political and moral" support
during the Vietnam War. While the relationship is "not
especially close," Vietnam also sees Sudan as an important
part of its strategy to strengthen overall relations with

19. (SBU) Tran Viet Tu, MFA Asia II expert, called
Vietnam's bilateral relationship with Syria "truly quiet."
Tu said that, while Syria had supported Vietnam during the
war years, the relationship had not significantly "moved
forward from there." Tu said that in an effort to move the
relationship forward, then-GVN President Le Duc Anh visited
Syria in 1995, but there has never been a reciprocal visit.
Tu added that no visits are planned for 2003. Tu suggested
that Syria had been "very much preoccupied" with Israel, and
has "never given much thought" to Vietnam since the end of
the Vietnam War. Concerning trade, Tu said that the two-way
trade is "too low to estimate." Vietnam does not view that
Syria is a state sponsor of terrorism, Tu claimed.


20. (SBU) The key to understanding Vietnam's ongoing
relations with the world's "bad guys" is what a senior MFA
official called Vietnam's "sense of history." The common
thread in bilateral relations with these countries is the
political, moral, and sometimes material and financial
support they gave to Vietnam during the war. Vietnam will
continue to maintain good relations with these countries,
while at the same time seeking to become more involved in
the mainstream multilateral and regional environment. GVN
senior leaders do not see a conflict in improving and
enhancing relationships with the U.S., western Europe, and
other countries while at the same time keeping up ties with
and voicing support for "old friends."

© Scoop Media

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