Cablegate: Ambassador and Defense Minister Discuss 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: The Vietnam Defense Minister confirmed in
his introductory meeting with the Ambassador October 26 that
underwater POW/MIA recovery operations can be conducted on a
Vietnamese Navy vessel, a civilian vessel or not at all.
English language training for military officers remains a
priority, but not enough to extract a pledge to sign an IMET
agreement. Both sides agree that POW/MIA recovery
operations and demining/UXO clearance efforts have been very
successful and have contributed to a positive and developing
bilateral military relationship. End Summary.

2. (U) The Ambassador, accompanied by Poloff and DATT, met
Defense Minister Senior General Pham Van Tra at the Ministry
of Defense Guest House October 26. Tra was accompanied by
Major General Pham Thanh Lan and two Senior Colonels from
the Ministry of Defense. The meeting lasted 30 minutes;
from the friendly atmospherics, it could have gone longer
had the Russian Ambassador not been waiting outside for his
exit call with the Defense Minister.


3. (U) The Ambassador detailed his discussions with Admiral
Fargo at PACOM and the significant steps the United States
and Vietnam had taken on bilateral military relations in the
previous year. General Tra agreed that relations had
developed "very well" and cited POW/MIA recovery operations
as a particular bright spot. Vietnam had turned over more
than 700 sets of remains to the United States, and U.S.
veterans had provided information key to the identification
of over 1,000 Vietnamese soldiers. "We are ready to
cooperate on MIA operations virtually anywhere you wish,"
Tra told the Ambassador.


4. (SBU) The Ambassador noted that key U.S. priorities on
POW/MIA are to be able to conduct recovery operations in the
Central Highlands and underwater. To resolve those issues,
the United States needs General Tra's assistance, he said.
General Tra acknowledged that "we have yet to agree" on the
underwater recovery operations issue. The United States had
proposed using a U.S. Navy vessel to conduct underwater
recovery options, but Vietnam feels that "warships should be
in Vietnam for goodwill visits only. A ship that loiters in
our waters would not be acceptable." General Tra said there
are two possible scenarios under which underwater recovery
operations could be conducted: either with U.S. personnel
operating on a Vietnamese ship, or with a U.S. civilian
ship. The Ambassador noted that Vietnamese military
personnel had visited Japan and Hawaii to gain a greater
understanding of the underwater recovery process and the
ships that are necessary for success. In a similar vein,
U.S. personnel visited Vietnam recently to review Vietnam's
capabilities in this regard. It is time to move beyond the
exchange and theoretical stage and begin operations, the
Ambassador stated. He agreed to pass on to Washington the
constraints General Tra had explained.


5. (U) General Tra raised the issue of demining and UXO
clearance, noting appreciatively that Vietnamese units had
been able to "do very good work" in three central provinces
using U.S.-provided equipment. The Ambassador added that
knowledge is the basis for effective clearance work, and the
goal of the United States is to fund a national-level survey
of the type being done in the three central provinces.


6. (U) Both the Ambassador and General Tra praised the pace
and substance of bilateral military exchanges, noting the
greater mutual understanding developed through these
exchanges, including General Tra's visit to the United
States in 2003. The Ambassador said he hopes to continue
this trend with high-level visits in 2005. General Tra
noted that Vietnam would be very busy with celebrations (of
the 30th anniversary of unification) and therefore high-
level visits would have to be planned carefully to avoid any
conflicts with important local events.

--------------------------------------------- --------------

7. (U) General Tra told the Ambassador that Vietnam wants
the United States to assist with the decontamination of four
former U.S. military bases in Vietnam. The Ambassador
explained that U.S. law prohibits the Department of Defense
from engaging in this sort of activity, but added that other
U.S. agencies -- notably the Environmental Protection
Agency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the
Department of Health and Human Services -- had been to
Vietnam on humanitarian missions and had spent substantial
sums of time and money.

8. (U) The Ambassador asked General Tra about Vietnam's
plans to sign an IMET agreement with the United States,
which would be a prerequisite for any military training --
particularly English language training for officers -- that
the United States could provide to Vietnam. General Tra
lamented the sorry state of the English language skills of
his officers, saying that it makes it difficult for
Vietnamese officers to participate usefully in any
international training. Australia and the UK are both
working on English language programs as a way to assist
Vietnam, he added, and the People's Army had recently opened
an English language training facility. The Ambassador
reminded Tra that, without an IMET agreement, the United
States is unable to assist Vietnam's military in this area --
and that money for such assistance is available but being
left behind because of the lack of an agreement.

9. (SBU) Comment: General Tra was alert and engaged for the
entire conversation, referring to his staff only once for
clarification on one of the finer points of the IMET
agreement. He was clearer about the use of a U.S. ship for
underwater recovery operations than other interlocutors have
been; previously we had been exploring solutions that would
have a U.S. ship and a Vietnamese ship conduct operations
side-by-side in a "training exercise." General Tra did not
mention this at all, and, when he linked the ship visits to
the underwater recovery operations by saying that one was
appropriate for U.S. warships and one was not, he got
vigorous head-nodding agreement from his assembled staff
members, as though he had repeated his talking point just
right. Finally, despite appearing a bit rushed in wrapping
up the meeting, General Tra seemed to truly enjoy it, and
when he told the Ambassador "we should meet each other again
soon," he sounded sincere. End Comment.


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