Cablegate: Pacom Admiral Keating's Visit to Vientiane

DE RUEHVN #0914/01 3530715
R 190715Z DEC 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: During a December 14 visit to Vientiane,
Commander of the Pacific Command Admiral Timothy Keating met
with senior officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
Ministry of Defense, and National Assembly. At the Foreign
Affairs Institute, he addressed students and took questions
from the press. Admiral Keating and his Lao interlocutors
took note of the improving relationship between the U.S. and
Laos, particularly on military matters, and highlighted the
importance of continued cooperation on issues of common
concern including POW/MIA accounting, clearance of unexploded
ordnance, and combating avian influenza. Both the Vice
Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Vice Minister of Defense
reaffirmed to Admiral Keating the GOL's intent to exchange
defense attaches in 2008. The visit was highly successful,
serving to highlight and move forward our improving
military-to-military ties. End summary.

Vice Foreign Minister

2. (SBU) Vice Foreign Minister Phongsavath Boupha began his
meeting with Admiral Keating by pointing out that the United
States and Laos are cooperating on many issues, including
accounting for those missing from the Indochina War years,
narcotics control, and unexploded ordnance. He said that
military relations would be enhanced by the decision to
exchange defense attaches. Admiral Keating expressed
appreciation for the support given by the Government of Laos
(GOL) to Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) activities.
He noted an increasing sense of urgency as remains degrade
over time. VFM Phongsavath noted the last JPAC field
excavations had found remains (which have been sent back to
Hawaii for analysis). He expressed regret that the Prime
Minister and Minister of Defense were traveling and therefore
unable to meet with Admiral Keating.

3. (SBU) Admiral Keating complimented the GOL for skillfully
addressing the challenge of avian influenza (AI) and welcomed
the GOL's willingness to share information. It is critically
important, he pointed out, to monitor even isolated outbreaks
so the World Health Organization can track AI developments.
VFM Phongsavath agreed, saying cooperation with the United
States and the international community had been very
important as the GOL undertook measures to control this
year's major outbreak in Vientiane. Admiral Keating affirmed
that PACOM is willing to assist any country in the region.
The Ambassador said that PACOM experts had worked with the
Lao National Avian and Human Influenza Coordinating Office
(NAHICO) in August on a training program for more than 130
Lao officials (half civilian and half military) which helped
integrate the military into the GOL's strategic plan for AI
preparations. The Ambassador pointed out that, in many
countries, the military has the logistical and organizational
capabilities which would be critical in dealing with an AI
pandemic. VFM Phongsavath thanked the United States for
donations of personal protective equipment (PPEs).

4. (SBU) Regarding the severe problems Laos faces from
unexploded ordnance (UXO) from the Indochina War years, VFM
Phongsavath said that, despite contributions by the U.S. and
other donors, there are not enough resources to solve the
problem. The Ambassador mentioned that the two sides, in
Bilateral Defense Talks in October, had examined the
possibility of U.S. military training for the Lao military
for UXO removal. VFM Phongsavath said that Lao UXO
specialists are capable of undertaking UXO removal
successfully with appropriate training, but new equipment is
needed. Admiral Keating responded that PACOM would consider
ways to assist with UXO removal.

5. (U) GOL officials accompanying VFM Phongsavath to the
meeting, which took place at the Lao Plaza Hotel, were
Ministry of National Defense (MND) Permanent Secretary
Brigadier General Sisophonh Bangonesengdet; MFA Department
of Europe and Americas Affairs Director General Southam
Sakonhninhom; MND Department of External Relations Director
General Colonel Siphay Meundouang; and MFA Americas
Division Director Thieng Boupha.

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Vice Minister of Defense

6. (SBU) Admiral Keating met with Vice Minister of Defense
Major General Somphet Thipmala at the Ministry of National
Defense. The Vice Minister was accompanied by several senior
military officials, including Brigadier General Sisophonh
Bangonesengdet. General Somphet assumed his current position
in July; he was previously governor of Vientiane province.
Admiral Keating thanked General Somphet for the GOL's support
for U.S. POW/MIA accounting efforts. He highlighted the
importance of joint USG-GOL efforts in combating avian
influenza, noting that, in the event of a pandemic, combating
the disease will be a multi-national, multi-agency effort.
He noted that PACOM has established an avian influenza task

7. (SBU) General Somphet pledged that the GOL would
continue its support for POW/MIA accounting efforts. He
noted that the GOL has a task force dedicated to combating
avian influenza, overseen by the Prime Minister. The GOL, he
said, would be happy to accept any assistance the USG offers
in this area. He expressed particular appreciation for the
provision of protective gear. General Somphet thanked
Admiral Keating for PACOM's offer of assistance on English
language teaching for members of the military. He said that
the GOL hopes to set up a defense attache's office at its
embassy in the U.S. in 2008. Admiral Keating said that he
fully supports this initiative and the Defense Department is
now looking for the best-qualified officer to staff the U.S.

8. (SBU) Admiral Keating said that he was happy to have a
chance to see General Sisophonh again after meeting him at
PACOM's Chiefs of Defense conference. At the conference, all
of the participants expressed their countries' commitment to
achieving peace and security in the Pacific region. It was
good to see this unity of goals and good to have General
Sisophonh as a participant, Admiral Keating said.

National Assembly Vice President

9. (SBU) Admiral Keating opened the conversation with
National Assembly Vice President Dr. Saisomphone Phomvihane
at the National Assembly by expressing his gratitude for
Laos' cooperation in support of a full accounting for our
missing service members. Admiral Keating stated that he had
come to Laos to solidify and improve mutual trust and
friendship between the U.S. and Lao militaries.

10. (SBU) Dr. Saisomphone, who is also the Chair of the
National Assembly's Foreign Relations Committee, responded
that over past years, cooperation on POW/MIA accounting had
been outstanding, and that he would seek to continue support
for this commitment. He said that cooperation on avian
influenza (AI) had also been very good, and thanked the
Admiral for U.S.-provided training in this area. Dr.
Saisomphone offered four proposals to enhance U.S.-Lao

1) U.S. policy should support Lao access to the U.S.
Export-Import (EXIM) Bank and increased U.S. investment in
2) In line with the first point, the U.S. should encourage
investors and business leaders to travel to Laos and see the
opportunities available themselves;
3) The U.S. should continue its support for the POW/MIA
mission, as the two governments had already agreed; and
4) The U.S. should increase its assistance on AI in terms of
both funding and training.

11. (SBU) Addressing the last point first, Admiral Keating
stated that he agreed wholeheartedly that interagency,
multiple country collaboration is important in resisting the
spread of AI worldwide. He noted that Laos had received high
marks from a number of international bodies, including the

VIENTIANE 00000914 003 OF 004

World Health Organization, for its openness on this issue.
He expressed his appreciation for Laos' support on POW/MIA

12. (SBU) The Ambassador said that, with regard to the
investment climate in Laos, there are many potential
opportunities for U.S. investment; the two governments will
have to work together both to explain these opportunities and
implement existing agreements. He observed that recent
improvements in Laos' economic infrastructure and
transportation network could lead to more rapid development.
With regard to the EXIM bank, the Ambassador said that he
hoped to be hearing news soon.

13. (SBU) Admiral Keating asked about Dr. Saisomphone's
views of China as a military and economic power in the
region. Dr. Saisomphone said that China's policy in the
region is clear, its intentions good, and its relations
friendly with Laos and other Southeast Asian countries. He
noted the importance for Laos of trade with China and Laos'
continuing cooperation with China in the energy sector. Dr.
Saisomphone said that Laos has good relations with other
nations in the region, which he expects will continue. The
Admiral said that the U.S. would like to build on these

Public Remarks at the Institute of Foreign Affairs
--------------------------------------------- -----

14. (U) Admiral Keating spoke to an audience of
approximately 50 at the Institute of Foreign Affairs on the
importance of regional cooperation to create security and
stability in the Asia Pacific area. In addition to students
from the National University,s International Relations
Department, the audience included officials from the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defense, National Institute
of Social Sciences, and other line ministries. Admiral
Keating said that all 25 regional military representatives at
PACOM's recent Chiefs of Defense conference had agreed about
the importance of peace and security in the region. Noting
that he oversees a region that includes 51 percent of the
globe, he said that his primary responsibility is to protect
the U.S. The best way to do this is by not getting into a
fight. Admiral Keating said that even countries without a
coastline are dependent on maritime security, since their
imports and exports travel by sea. In response to questions
from the audience, Admiral Keating clarified the role of
PACOM in protecting shipping in cooperation with law
enforcement agencies, defined the role of the U.S. military
in preserving peace and stability through military readiness
and working with partners and allies, noted the importance of
halting terrorist activity throughout the region, and
described the use of military capabilities to respond to
natural disasters when assistance is requested.

15. (U) After the presentation, the Admiral gave a short
interview to journalists from Lao National Radio, Lao
National Television, and the English language newspaper
Vientiane Times. Lao Radio asked Admiral Keating what role
Laos should play in the region. He said that he expects Laos
will continue to change and develop rapidly, and that
regional cooperation will continue. He looks forward to
improving ties with Laos to promote regional stability and
security, and said he was pleased to welcome Lao Brigadier
General Sisophonh Bangonesengdet to the Chiefs of Defense
conference in Hawaii in October. Citing ship visits to
Cambodia and the assistance provided to Bangladesh in the
wake of the most recent cyclone, Lao Radio asked if the U.S.
has any plans for humanitarian programs in Laos. Admiral
Keating said he hopes to schedule a humanitarian project in
the future. Lao Radio asked if PACOM planned to help Lao
officials develop their foreign language capabilities. The
Admiral said that he would promote efforts to have Lao
officials learn English while U.S. officials learned Lao.
Asked by the Vientiane Times about the status of Lao-U.S.
relations, Admiral summed it up by saying &They,re good,
and getting better.8

VIENTIANE 00000914 004 OF 004


16. (SBU) Admiral Keating's visit was highly successful,
serving as the most visible expression to date of the
improvement in military-to-military relations between the
U.S. and Laos over the past year. Admiral Keating's Lao
interlocutors, particularly the Vice Minister of Defense,
appeared pleased by the opportunity to receive such a senior
U.S. military official. Both sides reinforced their
commitment to cooperating in key areas of mutual concern
including POW/MIA accounting, removal of unexploded ordnance,
and combating avian influenza. The high-level expression of
common commitment to the exchange of defense attaches
suggests the Lao are prepared to follow through and will
sustain momentum as the issue moves through the Lao

17. (U) Admiral Keating has approved this message.

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