Cablegate: Codel Collins' Frank and Final Meetings On Pow/Mia

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


1. (SBU) Summary: On his last day of meetings in Hanoi
February 27, Congressman Mac Collins (R-GA) met senior GVN
leaders and reviewed progress on POW/MIA issues during his
trip. Conversations focused on the GVN's current efforts
and what the USG and the GVN agree that the GVN should do in
the future; the GVN's assertion that improvements in the
bilateral relationship will inspire more Vietnamese citizens
to come forward with information on U.S. MIAs; and a review
of the status of the U.S. request to use a U.S. Navy salvage
vessel to conduct MIA recovery operations in Vietnamese
coastal waters. The discussions were frank. Congressman
Collins said he was "disappointed and dissatisfied" with the
Vietnamese response to his requests for information. End

2. (SBU) Rep. Collins and delegation met with MFA, MOD, and
the Vietnamese Office of Searching for Missing Personnel
(VNOSMP) his first day of meetings (reftel) and then
traveled to Danang for interviews with two Vietnamese
veterans. On his last day back in Hanoi, he met separately
with Vice Minister of Public Security Nguyen Van Huong, Vice
Minister of Foreign Affairs Le Van Bang, and Deputy Prime
Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. Rep. Collins complained to DPM
Dung that, in his four days in Vietnam, conversations had
been "word for word repetition of the same language about
cooperation." In his meeting with Vice Minister Huong, he
criticized his trip as a "merry-go-round," and, following
the meeting with VFM Bang, he told Assistant Foreign
Minister Nguyen Duc Hung, his "host" for the visit, that he
was "disappointed and dissatisfied" with the GVN's response
to the list of questions and access requests he had
submitted (reftel).

3. (SBU) GVN interlocutors uniformly argued that Vietnamese
cooperation in the MIA effort was substantial, long-
standing, ongoing, and divorced from any political linkage
with other aspects of the U.S.-Vietnam relationship. DPM
Dung stated that "nowhere else in the world" has the U.S.
received such a high level of cooperation in accounting for
MIAs, and touted the "huge strides" in resolving outstanding
cases since the normalization of bilateral relations in
1995. MPS VM Huong noted that MPS officers worked closely
with VNOSMP to identify Vietnamese witnesses to Vietnam War-
era battles and air crashes, and to bring those witnesses to
the attention of Vietnamese and U.S. experts working on the
MIA issue. He added that MPS had been "very active" in
bringing witnesses to meet with USG personnel both in
Vietnam and Laos. Rep. Collins acknowledged MPS' efforts,
but requested that MPS assist further in cases where the GVN
had failed to provide access to personnel, claiming not to
know their whereabouts. Rep. Collins also asked Huong to
dedicate MPS investigative resources to finding information
that the GVN said was "lost."

4. (SBU) Rep. Collins and Ambassador Burghardt identified
areas where the GVN could make further contributions to the
MIA accounting effort. Ambassador emphasized the necessity
of providing detailed responses to U.S. inquiries; declaring
that records were lost was not sufficient, he said. To
satisfy the families of MIA personnel, the GVN should
explain the loss of the records and the specific efforts the
GVN had made to recover them, he clarified. Rep. Collins
repeatedly emphasized that there is a link in the U.S.
between the GVN's perceived cooperation on MIA issues and
the U.S. Congress' continued willingness to provide trade
benefits such as the BTA and U.S. support for Vietnam's
entry into the WTO. In the meeting with VFM Bang, Rep.
Collins noted that political focus in the U.S. had shifted
from "free trade" to "fair trade" and said that the American
people were greatly concerned about losing jobs to foreign
competitors. If Vietnam were seen as unhelpful in resolving
the MIA issue, Collins said, it would be difficult for the
U.S. to be helpful to Vietnam on trade issues.

5. (SBU) DPM Dung and VFM Bang separately said they
understood Rep. Collins' concerns, and noted that one reason
there had been increasing access to Vietnamese witnesses was
that, with the improvement in bilateral relations, ordinary
Vietnamese were more willing to act in a way that they
perceived as benefiting the U.S. (Note: during the visit,
Rep. Collins and his team were able to meet with two
individuals to whom USG experts had been seeking access for
over 12 years. End note.) VFM Bang noted that, in the
past, some of the witnesses U.S. experts wanted to interview
"were unwilling to meet with Americans." He said the GVN
was not willing to force its citizens into talking to USG
investigators, but that recent improvements in the bilateral
relationship had caused some witnesses to be forthcoming.
DPM Dung said that continued U.S. efforts in the
humanitarian demining arena, as well as cooperation in trade
and investment, were excellent steps to "minimize the
consequences of war" and helped strengthen cooperation in
all fields, including MIA accounting, law enforcement
cooperation, and the fight against terrorism.

6. (SBU) Rep. Collins also raised the issue of using a U.S.
Navy salvage vessel in underwater recovery operations in
Vietnamese waters. Both DPM Dung and VFM Bang separately
suggested that a better solution would be to use U.S.
equipment and experts on a Vietnamese ship, or for the U.S.
to donate a more modern salvage vessel to the Vietnamese
navy that would then be dedicated to underwater recovery
efforts. Rep. Collins stated that the U.S. did not have a
ship to offer, that U.S. equipment was superior, and that to
preserve the integrity of the recovery sites and the safety
of the recovery personnel, the GVN would "have to" accept a
U.S. ship out of common sense. DPM Dung answered that there
were "unique" political and legal issues at play in Vietnam,
and that the issue of a salvage ship was the wrong place for
the U.S. to try to dictate to Vietnam "from a position of
superiority." DPM Dung added that the issue of a U.S.
military ship - armed or unarmed - operating in Vietnamese
waters was "sensitive, and related to the laws of Vietnam."
Vietnam's position, he stated, was that it should be a
Vietnamese ship operating with the latest U.S. equipment and
experts to ensure effectiveness and safety. The U.S. and
Vietnam shared the same goal, Dung noted. He urged the U.S.
not to let the resolution of the issue "be prolonged over
the minor difference of the nationality of the ship." "We
welcome a U.S. warship visiting our ports," DPM Dung said,
"but not operating in our territorial waters."

7. (SBU) Ambassador suggested that, as an alternative to a
U.S. ship operating alone, perhaps the recovery operation
could be done with both U.S. and Vietnamese ships as a kind
of joint training in salvage operations. DPM Dung noted
that this suggestion had come up during the visit of Defense
Minister Pham Van Tra to Washington in November 2003; the
GVN was considering that possibility.

8. (SBU) Comment: Rep. Collins' interlocutors were visibly
unhappy with his reaction to what they clearly believed was
a forthcoming response from the GVN to his visit and to the
questions he raised. His suggestion that GVN "non-
cooperation" would have consequences in the trade arena also
did not sit well, and prompted VFM Bang and DPM Dung to
point out other areas where U.S.-Vietnam cooperation was in
the U.S. interest. They seemed receptive to the
Ambassador's request that they provide more details in their
official responses to requests for access to individuals or
for information. On the salvage ship issue, DPM Dung and
VFM Bang repeatedly suggested that the issue was one to be
worked out between experts, and expressed their belief that
a satisfactory solution would be found. End comment.

9. (U) Congressman Collins did not have the opportunity to
clear this message prior to his departure.

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