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Cablegate: Mfa Goals for 2004 and Beyond

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

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HANOI 000377

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

STATE FOR EAP/BCLTV

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL OVIP CH LA CB VM ASEAN
SUBJECT: MFA GOALS FOR 2004 AND BEYOND

Ref: 03 Hanoi 3351

1. (SBU) Summary. MFA Policy Planning Department Deputy
Director General Bui Thanh Son, in a meeting with Pol/C on
February 10, reiterated Vietnam's commitment to moving
forward on U.S.-Vietnam relations "in all fields, including
military" in 2004. He pondered about the possibility of a
bilateral meeting at APEC with the President for Prime
Minister Khai, with a visit to the U.S. to follow in 2005 on
the occasion of the 10th anniversary of bilateral relations.
He cited Vietnam's relations with its three neighbors as the
GVN's top foreign policy priorities, ranking relations with
"Big Powers" -- including the U.S. -- as only number two.
Vietnam remains committed to more active participation in
regional organizations and continues its quest for a non-
permanent seat on the UN Security Council in 2008. Embassy
does not believe that Son's comments mark a renunciation of
GVN hopes for a 2004 Prime Ministerial visit to the U.S.,
and continues to welcome the possibility of a USG delegation
soon discussing with the GVN our concerns and goals in
advance of such a visit, whether this year or next year.
End Summary.

US-Vietnam
----------

2. (SBU) DDG Son, who described his Department's role as
providing advice to the Foreign Minister on overall foreign
policy as well as specifically responsible for "coordinating
policy initiatives" of the various other Departments within
the MFA, reiterated the GVN's commitment to improving the
bilateral relationship with the U.S. in 2004 "in all fields,
including military." He welcomed dialogue about "what we
(the GVN) can do" to move the relationship forward. When
Pol/C noted unofficial GVN inquiries about the possibility
of a visit to the U.S. in 2004 by the Prime Minister and the
likelihood that such a trip would have to be preceded by a
variety of positive steps by the GVN in fields such as human
rights and religious freedom, DDG Son commented that "we are
doing things that you may not know about." Pol/C urged
greater information-sharing and access, citing our recent
frustration in not being able to obtain details about the
Tet amnesty (which Vice Minister of Public Security Nguyen
Van Huong had promised would include persons of concern to
the USG) or about a reported December 2003 directive by the
Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA) to speed up
registration of churches in the Central Highlands. DDG Son
admitted that lack of transparency remained a problem in the
GVN system, but offered no fixes.

3. (SBU) DDG Son floated the possibility of a bilateral
meeting at APEC between the President and Prime Minister
Phan Van Khai, to be followed in 2005 with a Prime
Ministerial visit linked to the 10th anniversary of
establishment of diplomatic relations. Pol/C noted that the
USG had originally been contemplating a Prime Ministerial
visit in late 2003, but the apparent GVN moratorium on high
level visits to the U.S. during U.S.-led military action in
Iraq in early 2003 had slowed momentum in relations for
several months. He urged greater coordination by the GVN on
high-level visits, so that the USG does not have to handle
three to four GVN ministerial-level visits within the space
of a few weeks, as in September/October 2003. He urged
positive GVN actions that would justify an eventual Prime
Ministerial visit, which will need to be substantive, not
merely ceremonial. He urged the MFA to ensure that all
future high level dialogues increasingly focus on strategic
issues, not litanies of complaints on minor problems like
catfish, flag bills, etc. Additional cooperation on
counterterrorism would also be especially welcome, even if
only in the form of more responsiveness to U.S. watchlists
and other information shared with the GVN.

4. (SBU) Pol/C asked about the MFA's plans for a bilateral
political dialogue in 2004, citing the interest expressed by
Vice Foreign Minister Le Van Bang to Ambassador in December
2003. DDG Son, whose Department hosted the 2001 political
dialogue in Hanoi, welcomed the resumption of such a
dialogue but was unaware of any specific plans in 2004. He
promised to investigate this possibility. He asked about
the likelihood also of holding a human rights dialogue;
Pol/C reviewed USG disappointment that previous dialogues
had not yet led to enough substantive progress on issues of
concern to the USG to justify another round. DDG Son
indicated that the MFA might nonetheless issue another
invitation for a human rights dialogue in 2004, or at least
incorporate human rights issues in the eventual political
dialogue.

Priorities
----------

5. (SBU) When asked about competing priorities among the
GVN's various diplomatic activities and partners, DDG Son
insisted that relations with neighboring countries were at
the top of Vietnam's list, since these relations directly
affect national security. He claimed that, from this
perspective, relations with Laos and Cambodia were virtually
just as important as those with China. He pointed to border
demarcation, outflows of people (the 2001 Montagnard
problem), and economic disparities as issues the GVN had to
handle well in the interests of national security, and
pointed to new forms of economic cooperation with and
investment in Laos and Cambodia in particular. He expressed
satisfaction over land and sea border demarcation with
China, while admitting that fishing rights might remain
under negotiation without resolution for the foreseeable
future.

6. (SBU) Son described Vietnam's perception that China's
foreign policy had undergone a sea change in 2002, with a
"dramatic" shift away from security issues -- like the South
China Sea -- and instead toward economic issues and a new
attention to Southeast Asia. No longer, he said, was
Vietnam concerned about any threats from Chinese
"misbehavior." However, he cited shared concerns by Vietnam
and ASEAN partners about China's "increased weight" and
influence in the region, while commenting that Beijing was
not trying to "interfere" in domestic policy decisions of
these countries per se (unlike the U.S., he noted). He
described Chinese "influence" primarily as taking the forms
of heightened exports and economic competition. The best
hope of Vietnam and ASEAN, he predicted, was to continue to
ensure China's "integrated interests" within the region
through the ASEAN+3 process, free trade agreements (with
expected concessions for countries like Vietnam, he added),
and other contacts.

7. (SBU) According to Son, Vietnam's relations with "Big
Powers" -- including the U.S. -- were important but clearly
secondary to the ties with the neighboring countries. He
acknowledged the economic imperatives in particular of
better relations with the U.S., EU, and Japan, however.

Multilateral ties
-----------------

8. (SBU) Son described Vietnam's participation in regional
organizations -- notably ASEAN and APEC -- as its most
important multilateral goal this year and in the decade
ahead. He promised more pro-active cooperation by the GVN
in ASEAN counterterrorism initiatives in particular. He
acknowledged the potential threats to the region from
terrorism that required coordinated planning and responses,
and again indicated that the GVN was doing more than the USG
might realize. He urged more USG attention to anti-Vietnam
"terrorists" such as Ly Tong and Vo Van Duc (both of whom,
Pol/C reminded him, were now in custody). Pol/C encouraged
an even more pro-active stance by the GVN on
counterterrorism not only as important for its ASEAN
responsibilities but also as Vietnam continues its quest for
a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council in 2008, a
goal that Son acknowledged was a high priority for the GVN
over the next few years.

Comment
-------

9. (SBU) This appointment had been in the works for
months; Embassy does not believe that the MFA chose this
opportunity to send a signal that the GVN is no longer
interested in a 2004 Prime Ministerial visit. The APEC
alternative would be a logical fallback, however, given
likely difficulties over scheduling and substance of a visit
to Washington this year. Embassy continues to believe that
it would be useful to bring a USG delegation to Hanoi to
discuss specific U.S. expectations for further progress,
both in Vietnam's respect for human rights and in bilateral
ties, that would pave the way for an eventual visit, whether
in 2004 or 2005.
BURGHARDT

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