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Cablegate: Codel Hagel Calls On Minister of Defense, Colonel General

DE RUEHHI #2607/01 2850312
R 120312Z OCT 06





E.O. 12958: N/A

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1. (SBU) On October 6, Senator Hagel called on Vietnam's new
Minister of Defense, Colonel General Phung Quang Thanh. During this
meeting, Colonel General Thanh reviewed the positive trend in
bilateral military relations, and noted several key areas where the
U.S.-Vietnam defense relationship could grow. Senator Hagel
inquired about Vietnam's ongoing efforts to modernize its military
forces, to combat terrorism, and also about how the different
elements of the People's Armed Forces work together to carry out
their various missions. Thanh provided straightforward answers,
underscoring that the military in Vietnam serves defend Vietnam, the
Communist Party and the current political structure. End Summary.

2. (SBU) On October 6, Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) engaged Vietnam's
new Minister of Defense, Colonel General Phung Quang Thanh in a
cordial, but substantive, discussion of the challenges facing
Vietnam's military. The Senator was accompanied by the CDA,
professional staff member Rexon Ryu, and military escort Lieutenant
Colonel Gregg Olson, as well as by a control officer and an Embassy

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Thanh Reviews Relations; Gives a Positive Spin
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3. (SBU) Colonel General Thanh thanked Senator Hagel for his visit
and expressed appreciation for his longtime contributions to the
bilateral relationship, as well as his ongoing efforts to support
the granting of PNTR and Vietnam's accession to the WTO. Senator
Hagel thanked the Minister for his welcome and provided an overview
of his trip to Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam - countries of key
geopolitical importance for the United States. Of these, he noted
that the U.S.-Vietnam relationship was considered to be important to
the United States. He suggested that efforts by both countries to
promote trade would continue to promote security in the region, and
that the continuing growth of bilateral defense cooperation in areas
of common interest could contribute positively to both countries
security interests. The Senator asked Colonel General Thanh to
share his thoughts and opinions on the current state of mil-mil
relations and also about areas where cooperation could potentially
be expanded.

4. (SBU) Colonel General Thanh characterized the current mil-mil
relationship as very positive and opined that he believed that the
bilateral defense relationship provides a good contribution to the
overall bilateral relationship. He further noted that the bilateral
defense relationship should continue to be built within the context
of the overall bilateral relationship and thus be oriented towards
promoting stability and the fostering of a long-term relationship.
He stated that the mil-mil relationship should serve the cause of
peace, stability, cooperation and development in both the region and
the world. He stated that both sides have taken constructive and
active steps toward that end. He recalled that Defense Ministers of
both countries have recently exchanged visits, and that the
Commander of U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM) had recently paid a
visit. He also noted that Vietnam's military research institutes
have held exchanges with U.S. military personnel, and that there has
been much other cooperation in the field of education and training.
Colonel General Thanh also noted the at least one U.S. naval warship
has visited Vietnam's ports each year, and he expressed appreciation
for U.S. assistance in addressing the problems of unexploded
ordnance, landmines and toxic chemical contamination. He also
expressed his appreciation for the productive cooperation between
USPACOM military medical personnel and the People's Army Military
Medical Department in fighting HIV/AIDS. He asked Senator Hagel to
pass on his personal thanks to USPACOM for its assistance in caring
for one of the PAVN officers who fell on during a recent trip to
Honolulu, HI and who required significant medical attention.
Finally, he thanked Senator Hagel for U.S. assistance in funding the
two military officers currently studying at the Defense Language
Institute's English Language Training Center in Texas, and asked for
additional assistance to provide more language and technical
training to Vietnam's military officers in the years to come.

5. (SBU) Colonel General Thanh noted past successful cooperation by
both countries to resolve MIA cases, and called attention to efforts
by Vietnam to assist U.S. activities in this area, especially in the
central highlands and other sensitive mountainous areas. He thanked
the United States for the provision of archival records that have
helped in the recovery of Vietnam's own MIAs, and he suggested that
the GVN is seriously considering permitting U.S. naval vessels to
conduct MIA recovery efforts in Vietnam's territorial waters;
however, he noted that certain areas in the eastern sea continue to

HANOI 00002607 002.2 OF 003

be in dispute and the presence of U.S. naval vessels could be
perceived wrongly.

6. (SBU) Colonel General Thanh also suggested that Vietnam would
welcome further U.S. assistance in addressing wartime legacy issues,
especially in the area of cleaning-up "toxic hotspots." He added
that another area of possible cooperation is in counter-terrorism.
He noted that Vietnam currently enjoys social and political
stability, but the GVN recognizes the value of sharing experiences
and information with the United States in this area so that both
countries can continue to enjoy peace and stability.

7. (SBU) Colonel General Thanh pointed out that Lieutenant General
Nguyen Duc Soat, he standing Vice-Chairman of Vietnam's National
Search and Rescue Committee (and also a Deputy Chief of the General
Staff), is currently leading a delegation of search and rescue
specialists to the United States on a fact finding tour. He added
that he hoped that the United States and Vietnam could work together
more closely in fighting against the effects of natural disasters.
He pointed out that Vietnamese fishing vessels often get caught-up
in storms and he indicated that the GVN would welcome U.S. help in
coming to their assistance. He also suggested that the GVN would
welcome USPACOM assistance in meteorological and oceanographic
(METOC) prediction in order to mitigate the effects of typhoons.

Hagel: Condolences; Your Biggest Challenge?

8. (SBU) Senator Hagel thanked Colonel General Thanh for his
comments and expressed his condolences on behalf of the U.S.
Congress and the American people for the loss of life in recent
typhoon. He also noted that the U.S. Embassy would soon announce
the availability of funds to assist survivors. He expressed his
appreciation for the Minister's ideas about ways to grow the
bilateral defense relationship, and inquired about the biggest
challenges currently being faced by Vietnam's army in its attempts
to modernize its forces.

People, Advanced Weaponry

9. (SBU) Colonel General Thanh replied that like many other
countries in the world, Vietnam is trying to reduce its number of
active-duty forces while simultaneously raising the quality of its
weapons systems. He lamented that despite many remarkable economic
achievements, Vietnam remains a relatively poor country and cannot
contribute as much as it would like to the army's program of weapons
modernization. Despite the fact that Vietnam's defense doctrine
relies both on weapons systems and human resources, Vietnam's
poverty compels it to emphasize the latter. He added that Vietnam
depends on levee en masse, but that the active army constitutes the
vanguard and leading force of the armed forces. He stated that
great attention is paid to synergizing the training and operation of
both forces to ensure that Vietnam's human resource contribution to
defense is adequate for its mission, which is primarily to preserve
Vietnam's territorial integrity against foreign invaders.


10. (SBU) Senator Hagel then asked about how Vietnam's army feels
about the threat of terrorism and if Vietnam felt it was vulnerable
to that threat. Colonel General Thanh replied that many countries
in the region have recently had problems with terrorism, and that
even Vietnam has had problems in the central highlands and other
remote mountainous areas, especially where there are many ethnic
minorities. He added that the GVN has not yet eliminated the
problem with remaining elements of United Front for the Liberation
of Oppressed Races (FULRO) and that there is always the threat that
outside forces will try to negatively influence the relatively
uneducated rural inhabitants of these areas. He suggested that it
would be unlikely that well-educated urban dwellers would be
susceptible to this influence and that therefore the threat of
terrorism there is minimal.

Military and Police Roles; Intelligence

11. (SBU) Senator Hagel followed up with a question about the
relationship between Vietnam's army and its security forces.
Colonel General Thanh explained that the People's Army and the
People's Security Forces are both constituent elements of the
People's Armed Forces, and that both operate under the leadership
and guidance of the Communist Party, as well as that of the

HANOI 00002607 003.2 OF 003

government. While both forces work together very closely to protect
the Communist Party, the state and the government, the army is
primarily responsible for ensuring Vietnam's territorial integrity,
which includes fighting against the threat of terrorism and in
mitigating the consequences of natural disasters. He stated that the
primary mission of the security forces is to ensure social order and
political stability, as well as to fight crime, including
transnational crime. Police forces play the leading role in
fighting terrorism, but the army has an obligation to cooperate and
assist where it can. Colonel General Thanh added that for over
sixty years, both forces have worked in close cooperation in support
of the party, which is why the leaders of both forces are not only
cabinet ministers, but are also members of the Politburo.

12. (SBU) Senator Hagel also asked if the Minister of Defense had
oversight of intelligence activities. Colonel General Thanh
affirmed that intelligence units do report to him on a daily basis
because he is also the army's senior military officer. Senator
Hagel then asked if the Minister of Foreign Affairs also received
the same intelligence reports, and Colonel General Thanh indicated
that although other ministers receive intelligence reports, they did
not receive the same reports as he receives, nor do they receive
them as frequently.

13. (SBU) Senator Hagel wrapped up visit by again thanking Colonel
General Thanh for Vietnam's contributions to the bilateral defense
relationship and offered his hopes that the relationship would
continue to grow. Responding in kind, Minister of Defense Thanh
wished the Senator and his staff good health and asked his continued
support for upcoming efforts to promote bilateral trade and defense

Embassy Comment

14. (SBU) Minister of Defense Thanh was poised, relaxed, positive
and frank throughout the entire meeting. He responded clearly and
unambiguously to every inquiry posed by Senator Hagel and offered a
number of constructive ideas to expand the bilateral defense
relationship. The Minister signaled a clear desire to continue the
positive, if cautious, trend in bilateral relations, and expressed a
willingness to consider expanding the mil-mil envelope a bit more
than past visits have indicated. In particular, his indication that
the MOD is considering requests to use U.S. ships to perform
underwater MIA recovery missions is new.

15. (U) This cable was cleared by JPAC Detachment Two and Senator
Hagel's staff.


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