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Cablegate: U.S.-Vietnam Military Relations On the Eve Of

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

Ref: A. Hanoi 2189
B. Hanoi 1713
C. Hanoi 1831
D. Hanoi 1818
E. Hanoi 1230

1. (U) Summary: The upcoming visit of Defense Minister Tra
to the U.S. to meet with the Secretary of Defense and other
USG officials (ref A) is the latest and clearest of a series
of positive signals from GVN concerning the development of a
U.S.-Vietnam defense relationship, which has grown to
include medical and other exchanges; conferences; joint
attendance at regional seminars and exercises; cooperation
in humanitarian efforts, demining/UXO removal; POW/MIA
accounting; and an upcoming ship visit. Vietnamese
officials confirm that this represents a new policy of
openness to military relationships with other countries. So
far, the enhanced pace of the military relationship has not
been affected by other disagreements between the U.S. and
Vietnam. End summary.

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2. (U) Distrust of the United States still runs deep in some
circles in the GVN, and probably deepest in the military and
security branches. However, in spite of vocal GVN
disapproval of the war in Iraq, the 2003 House passage of a
Vietnam Human Rights Amendment to the State Authorization
Bill, the catfish dumping case, and municipal and state
legislation to recognize the old South Vietnam flag, the GVN
and the MOD have maintained a largely consistent course
toward expanding U.S. - Vietnam defense relations. The
GVN's strategic intent and objectives are varied (and likely
focus heavily on counterbalancing the PRC), but it is clear
that there has been a Politburo-level decision to promote
these defense ties with the U.S. This commitment represents
progress in our effort to open up Vietnam's once closed and
protected military to regional cooperation and ultimately to
involve Vietnam in supporting USG regional security and
strategic goals.

3. (SBU) According to Hoang Mai Van (protect), a researcher
at MOD's newly-opened Institute for International Relations,
Vietnam has a "relatively new" policy of openness in its
military relationships with other countries in general, not
just vis--vis the U.S. MOD is noticeably more willing now
to send its people to participate in international and
regional events, including those sponsored by the U.S., he
added. According to Van, motivation for this change came to
some degree from ASEAN; ASEAN contacts and exchanges "over
the past couple of years" had convinced the Vietnamese
national security community that if Vietnam failed to open
up to security-related contacts with other states in the
region and the world, it would be left behind.

4. (U) Minister of Defense Tra, speaking to reporters at the
opening ceremony of the National Assembly on October 21,
emphasized the importance of improving relations between the
U.S. and Vietnam. However, he drew a distinction between a
defense "relationship" and defense "cooperation." The two
sides would "not yet touch upon issues of defense
cooperation" during his counterpart visit to the U.S., he
said, but instead would focus on demining, Agent Orange
research, and paving the way for "future visits of military
delegations and naval ships."

5. (U) Defense Minister Tra's visit will be the highest-
level military visit to the U.S. since 1975, a fact that the
Vietnamese press has been announcing at every opportunity.
Vietnamese press reports have emphasized that Tra's visit
represents a continuation of a pattern of high-level visits
that began with then-Defense Secretary William Cohen in
March 2000, and continued with President Clinton's visit in
November 2000. The Vietnamese have reciprocated with a
visit by Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in December
2001, and are now extending the run with recent visits by
the Ministers of Trade, Planning and Investment, and Foreign
Affairs as well as Tra's visit and a probable visit by
Deputy Prime Minister Vu Khoan in December. On the U.S.
side, we are planning - and the Vietnamese have accepted in
principle - a visit by Admiral Fargo in early 2004.
Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Rodman will also likely
be visiting Vietnam in the near future.


6. (U) High-level visits are not the only dimension of the
improving U.S.-Vietnam relationship. Conferences,
humanitarian relief, demining, POW/MIA searches, and medical
and other exchanges are also long-standing elements of our
bilateral defense-related cooperation. Specific examples of
this cooperation are highlighted below.

Asia Army Chiefs Conference

7. (U) Lieutenant General Pham Hong Loi, Vice Chief of
General Staff of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN),
attended the U.S. Army/Pacific's co-sponsored Army Chiefs
Conference in South Korea from August 31 to September 4.
This was the first time the Vietnamese had attended the Asia-
Pacific region's senior Army leaders' meeting and the first
time Vietnam had sent a General Officer to a U.S. co-hosted,
co-sponsored meeting. This high-level attendance
demonstrated Vietnam's new emphasis on regional military
cooperation and integration and lack of concern about
possible domestic criticism associated with attending what
was clearly a U.S. military event. Vietnam also has
participated in the Pacific Area Special Operations
Conference (PASOC) in Hawaii, and regularly sends Sr.
Colonel (O-7)-level students to the Asia Pacific Center for
Security Studies and other PACOM-hosted/sponsored

Other conferences and exchanges

8. (U) The U.S. and Vietnam participate in exchanges,
conferences, and visits on a monthly basis at the Colonel (O-
6) level and above. In CY 2003, U.S. and Vietnamese
military and government officials planned or attended over
fifty different exchanges, visits, and events related to the
defense relationship. Though not all were completed - some
were canceled due to the SARS crisis and some were postponed
or canceled due to logistical reasons - this pattern of
visits covering a diverse array of subjects and issues
represents a solid basis for a military-to-military
relationship. Vietnam has also participated in multilateral
conferences in 2003 with U.S. assistance, such as the two
Multinational Force Standing Operating Procedures
Development Workshops in Hawaii; the Defense Environmental
and International Cooperation Conference in Bangkok; the
13th Asia-Pacific Military Medicine Conference in Bangkok;
and the Asia Pacific Peace Operations Capacity Building
Program in Tokyo. The Vietnamese have attended (with U.S.
Title X assistance) workshops and conferences in the region
on HIV/AIDS; Army Management; Military Operations and Law;
and Logistics Management.

Ship visit

9. (U) For the first time, the SRV has agreed to host a U.S.
Navy Warship at a Vietnam port, currently scheduled for Ho
Chi Minh City in mid-November. Ambassador Burghardt will go
to Ho Chi Minh City for a welcoming ceremony, which will
likely receive considerable press coverage. Admiral Fargo
had tentatively scheduled a visit to Vietnam during the ship
visit but MOD officials asked that he reschedule his visit.
According to MOD's Americas Department, the GVN decided that
a visit of his level on the heels of the DefMin's visit and
the ship visit would have been too many high-profile U.S.
events within a short two-week period, and that it would be
better to postpone the Admiral's trip. His predecessor
visited Hanoi in February 2002.

Medical exchanges

10. (U) PAVN and the U.S. military have an ongoing medical
exchange program, anchored by the annual U.S.-Vietnam
Military Medical Information Exchange. This year, Major
General Joseph Webb, Commander of the Tripler Army Medical
Center in Honolulu, led the U.S. delegation. Another source
of medical exchange was with the visit of the Blast
Resuscitation and Victims Assistance (BRAVA) training team,
which completed its most recent trip to Vietnam in June
2003. Vietnamese defense officials expressed satisfaction
with the visit, and planning is underway to repeat the
exercise in another part of Vietnam in order to provide
training to hospitals in areas with greater needs, such as
Quang Tri province. Vietnam has officially agreed to host
the 2005 Asia Pacific Medical Conference, another first in
the U.S. - Vietnam defense relationship.

Cobra Gold

11. (U) Vietnam has sent official observers to our
multilateral Exercise Cobra Gold in Thailand for the past
two years. This offered Vietnamese officers the opportunity
to interact with regional militaries in the conduct of the
largest military exercise in the region, as well as interact
with U.S. officers conducting the exercise.

POW/MIA accounting

12. (U) The ongoing joint operations of the JPAC Detachment
Two in Hanoi and Vietnam's Office of Searching for Missing
Persons (VNOSMP) is a continuing success story of
cooperation between two former combatants. At one time,
POW/MIA cooperation was the sole measure of the bilateral
relationship. Now, the remarkable aspect of this
cooperation is that, while still robust and successful, our
joint POW/MIA efforts no longer represent the totality - or
even majority - of our military-to-military cooperation,
even as these efforts continue to expand with new efforts at
archival research, interviews of former senior military
officials, direct Vietnamese coordination with Laos and
Cambodia, etc. Hanoi hosted Lt. General John LeMoyne,
Deputy Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, in May on a visit to
meet Vietnamese officials and express appreciation for
Vietnamese cooperation and support of these activities (ref
E). During his trip, LeMoyne discussed bilateral relations
on a larger scale in his meetings with senior MFA and MOD
officials, including Vice Minister of Defense Lt. General
Nguyen Huy Hieu. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and
Director of the POW/Missing Personnel Office Jerry Jennings
led a U.S. delegation to Vietnam June 11-17, and had
extensive discussions with Vietnamese political and military
officials as well as veterans groups (ref B).

Demining/UXO removal

13. (U) The U.S. contributes funds and equipment to NGOs and
Vietnamese agencies working to resolve the demining/UXO
problem in Vietnam. Contributions range from the donation
of computers to the MOD's military demining office (BOMICO)
to a grant (which should total about USD 6 million) to the
Vietnam Veterans of America Fund's survey of the impact of
mines and UXO in Vietnam as well as support for NGO's
involved in the removal, education and Mine/UXO victims'
assistance. U.S. efforts have saved lives through the
provision of more sophisticated equipment and direct medical
assistance - including provision of medical equipment and
skills training - as well as increased public awareness
through public service announcements and community projects.
These efforts have in turn generated goodwill with our
Vietnamese military counterparts as well as the affected
local Vietnamese populations. Signaling Vietnam's support,
the GVN recently indicated that it is interested in signing
on to the Level One demining survey, long a USG priority.

Humanitarian Assistance Program

14. (U) The Humanitarian Assistance Program - Engineering
(HAP-E) and Humanitarian Assistance Program - Excess
Property (HAP-EP) have provided an aid dimension to the
defense relationship. The HAP-E program responded to heavy
flooding in Thua Thien Hue province in 1999-2000 by donating
relief supplies. Later, in the flood-prone central region,
the USG used the HAP-E program to build eight disaster
relief centers/medical clinics over three years, including
three three-story clinics in 2003. Military HAP-E teams
stocked the buildings with generators and basic medical
equipment. Through the HAP-EP program, the USG also donated
medical equipment (defibrillators, operating room equipment
and supplies) to a hospital in Can Tho in 2003. Local
officials credit these Can Tho donations with saving 18
lives to date. Both HAP-E and HAP-EP have been well
received in Vietnam by both the national government and
respective provincial governments. In addition to the work
along the central coast and in the Mekong Delta, we are
examining a possible donation of medical equipment to Gia
Lai Province in the Central Highlands.

15. (U) Comment: The remarkable series of "firsts" that we
have seen or will see this year - DefMin Tra's visit, the
ship visit, the agreement to host the 2005 medical
conference, the participation in the Army Chiefs conference
by a General officer - are the practical outcomes of the
GVN's decision to open up further to relations in the region
and internationally, especially with "big countries" like
the U.S. This development has been remarkably resistant to
the sorts of events that likely would have derailed
bilateral efforts previously. However, the Vietnamese are
not operating in a vacuum; improvement of military relations
with the U.S. is balanced with increased exchanges and
visits with the Chinese (including an oncoming visit by the
Deputy Defense Minister and Chief of General Staff), the
Japanese, and the Indians, among others.

16. (U) Whether focused on the United States, or applied
equally to the other military powers in the region, the
increased openness of the Vietnamese military to exchanges
and contacts with other countries is a step forward in the
effort to improve, modernize, and professionalize the
Vietnamese military. We should encourage and nurture this
positive development by continuing to engage the Vietnamese
through inclusion of PAVN officers in PACOM theater-level
seminars; conferences; visits to Vietnam by senior leaders,
including senior OSD policy officials; and military-to-
military engagement in non-combat related areas, including
humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and military
medical readiness.

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