Cablegate: Ambassador and Uss Peleliu Bid Farewell to Central Vietnam

DE RUEHHM #0817/01 2150658
P 030658Z AUG 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

HO CHI MIN 00000817 001.2 OF 003

1. (U) Summary: Ambassador Marine traveled to Danang on July
24-25 to attend closing activities related to the USS Peleliu's
ten-day Pacific Partnership humanitarian mission to Vietnam. On
the same visit, the Ambassador paid farewell calls on Tran Van
Minh, Chairman of the Danang City People's Committee, and
Catholic Bishop Joseph Chau Ngoc Tri. He also visited a
dioxin/Agent Orange remediation site near Danang airport, held a
press roundtable for Danang media, and presided over a JPAC
Repatriation Ceremony during which three sets of remains
believed to be Americans killed during the Vietnam conflict were
transferred to U.S. custody. End summary.

USS Peleliu - Pacific Partnership A Success
--------------------------------------------- -
2. (U) The USS Peleliu, a naval vessel on a four month Pacific
Partnership mission to Southeast Asia and Oceania, arrived in
Danang on July 15, 2007, for a ten-day humanitarian operation.
Peleliu's crew of military personnel, NGO staffers and nationals
of seven partner nations (Japan, Australia, Singapore, India,
Malaysia, Canada and the Republic of Korea) conducted a variety
of medical, dental and engineering operations in cooperation
with the Vietnamese Ministries of Health (MOH) and Defense
(MOD). Three civilian Vietnamese doctors also joined the
Peleliu's crew at Danang and will participate in the remainder
of the Pacific Partnership mission. The humanitarian mission
was an overwhelming success and an important milestone for
U.S.-Vietnam military cooperation.

3. (U) Ambassador Marine visited one of many mission sites, a
medical and dental clinic run out of a local school. After
meeting its target of one thousand medical and dental exams over
four days, the clinic ran out of dental patients on the last day
and had to request permission from local authorities to examine
additional patients from a nearby primary school.

4. (SBU) The closing reception onboard the Peleliu was well
attended by officials from the MOH, MOD and the Danang People's
Committee. People's Committee Vice Chairman Van Huu Chien and
his delegation were impressed with the tour given by ship's
commanding officer, and eagerly asked questions about the ship's
medical facilities and capabilities.

Danang - City on the Move
5. (U) During his farewell call on the Danang People's
Committee, the Ambassador noted Danang's impressive economic
growth over the last few years, as demonstrated by its current
ranking as the second most competitive province nationwide in
the 2006 Vietnam Provincial Competitiveness Index. The
Ambassador cited the uptick in visits to Danang by himself and
the Consul General as evidence of the importance Mission Vietnam
places on maintaining a visible presence in Danang and affirmed
Mission Vietnam's desire to increase the level of USG activity
in Central Vietnam in general.

6. (U) People's Committee Chairman Tran Van Minh thanked the
Ambassador for his efforts to improve ties between the U.S. and
Central Vietnam and expressed his desire to expand exchanges
between U.S. and Danang youth, especially through U.S.
educational exchange opportunities.

7. (U) Chairman Minh also commented positively on the
Ambassador's visit to a dioxin cleanup site at Danang airport
earlier the same day (see paras 13 and 14), and pressed for
continued USG attention to the Agent Orange issue. Finally,
Minh sought the Ambassador's advice on how best to ensure that
the East-West Economic Corridor through Thailand, Laos and
Vietnam, which terminates at Danang seaport, reaches its full

Bishop of Danang notes Positive Trends, Ongoing Issues
--------------------------------------------- ---------
8. (U) At Ambassador Marine's first-ever meeting with Danang
Bishop Joseph Chau Ngoc Tri, he began by expressing common
interest in supporting religious freedom issues in Vietnam,
affirming that USG interest has not been diminished by Vietnam's
removal from the list of countries of particular concern (CPC)
last year, and noting our continued willingness to follow up
with the GVN on cases as they arise. Bishop Tri expressed a
desire to increase exchanges with U.S. Catholics and noted that
the Vietnam Bishops' Council plans to invite the U.S. Conference
of Bishops to return to Vietnam next year.

9. (U) Bishop Tri presented a generally positive picture of his
diocese's relationship with the government, noting that
conditions for the Church's followers in Danang had improved
significantly over the past few years. As evidence of the
improving relationship between the Church and GVN, Bishop Tri

HO CHI MIN 00000817 002.2 OF 003

cited the government's recent commitment to provide the diocese
with land near Danang's riverfront to construct administrative
offices, partially compensating the diocese for the land it lost
after 1975. The diocese's current administrative offices have
been borrowed from a local parish since 1985.

10. (U) Despite overall positive trends, Bishop Tri did note
several areas of concern. He said establishing parishes in
certain remote areas of the diocese has been "difficult" because
of complications and delays created by local authorities. He
also said the Church was displeased with news reports quoting
President Nguyen Minh Triet as saying the Vatican and the
Vietnam Bishops' Council supported GVN's handling of the trial
of Father Nguyen Van Ly. Bishop Tri confirmed reports in the
press that the Bishop of Nha Trang, who is also the Chairman of
the Vietnam Bishops' Council, wrote President Triet to object to
the way his comments were portrayed in the media. Finally, the
bishop expressed frustration over the diocese's inability to
train adequate numbers of priests and nuns, but attributed that
problem to Danang's relatively small proportion of religious
people, rather than problems with local authorities.

11. (SBU) When the Ambassador offered to raise the Bishop's
concerns with the Danang People's Committee, Bishop Tri stated
that he had not yet discussed the issue with the local
government and preferred to talk to them first. The Ambassador
encouraged Bishop Tri to approach the local government as soon
as possible, noting GVN's improved responsiveness to religious
issues over the past year.

U.S. Funds Dioxin Remediation Planning in Danang
--------------------------------------------- ---
12. (U) Ambassador Marine toured the Danang Airport, which is
the first Agent Orange/dioxin hotspot to receive USG technical
assistance, accompanied by officials from the Ministry of
Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) Office 33 and MOD.
The USG has provided approximately USD 2 million since 2002 to
build the capacity of the GVN in dioxin soil analysis and
remediation planning at the Danang Airport. Since last year,
the USG, together with the GVN and the Ford Foundation, have
supported an activity to lock down the dioxin in the Danang
Airport and minimize human risk of exposure at the site. In the
November 2006 Joint Statement of President George W. Bush and
President Nguyen Minh Triet, the leaders agreed that further
joint efforts to address the environmental contamination near
former dioxin storage sites would make a valuable contribution
to the continued development of their bilateral relationship.
In the 2007 supplemental budget, Congress allocated an
additional USD 3 million for dioxin remediation activities in
Vietnam. The GVN claims to have spent VND 5 billion (USD
312,000) on cleanup efforts in Bien Hoa and Danang. According
to Dr. Le Ke Son of MONRE's Office 33 and Dr. Tran Ngoc Tam of
the MOD's Science, Technology and Environment Department, the
GVN is set to begin a three-month project to prepare a holding
area and reinforce the walls of a drainage ditch located between
the former dioxin storage areas and Sen lake, located downstream
and close to the contaminated area.

13. (U) Members of the media were not present during the site
visit; however, the Agent Orange/dioxin issue was raised during
all of the Ambassador's interactions with the press. The
Ambassador encouraged members of the media to do more to educate
their audience on the need to cease harvesting water plants from
the area and to avoid fishing in Sen Lake.

Repatriation of Remains Ceremony
14. (U) On July 25, the Vietnam Office for Seeking Missing
Persons (VNOSMP) transferred custody of three sets of remains
believed to be those of Americans who died in the Vietnam
conflict to Detachment Two, Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command
(JPAC). The remains were recovered from Quang Tri and Thua
Thien-Hue provinces in central Vietnam and from Lang Son
Province in the north. Ambassador Marine presided over the
repatriation ceremony at which a military honor guard
transferred the remains to a U.S. Air Force aircraft for
repatriation to the JPAC Central Identification Laboratory (CIL)
at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. The JPAC/CIL is the executive
agent of the United States Department of Defense for identifying
the remains of all servicemen and servicewomen.

Ambassador's Visit Receives Wide Press Coverage
15. (U) During his final press roundtable in Danang on July 25,
the Ambassador took the opportunity to respond to questions on
bilateral relations, including Agent Orange/dioxin, HIV/AIDS,
educational collaborations, and joint military cooperation. The
roundtable was broadcast not only by Danang television but also
by VTV, and resulted in broad print coverage by Danang
provincial newspapers and VietnamNet.

HO CHI MIN 00000817 003.2 OF 003

16. This cable was coordinated with Embassy Hanoi.

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