Cablegate: Scenesetter for Visit by Oes Assistant Secretary Mcmurray

DE RUEHHI #1258/01 3171006
O 121006Z NOV 08




E.O. 12958: N/A



1. (SBU) Mission Vietnam looks forward to welcoming you to Ho Chi
Minh City, Can Tho and Cat Tien National Park. Your visit will be
an important signal to the Vietnamese of the importance of our
growing bilateral environmental relationship, especially as we seek
to build on the progress made during Prime Minister Nguyen Tan
Dung's June visit to the White House. Your participation in the
opening of the Delta Research and Global Observation Network
(DRAGON) Institute at Can Tho University will highlight U.S.-Vietnam
cooperation on climate change. Meetings with several Government of
Vietnam (GVN) ministries and agencies will provide the opportunity
to build upon ongoing wildlife protection efforts. You may also
wish to stress Vietnam's need to balance rapid economic growth with
environmental considerations. Your interlocutors may raise the
issue of Agent Orange/dioxin and will seek increased U.S. assistance
in this area.

2. (SBU) Our bilateral relationship with Vietnam is arguably at its
highest point since relations were normalized in 1995. Our
strengthening relations are in large part due to Vietnam and the US
seeing the mutual strategic value of expanding their partnership.
Vietnam is the 13th most populous country in the world and a
critical geo-strategic partner for the US in Asia, while the US is
one of Vietnam's largest economic and trading partners, as well as,
the key balance force in maintaining a stable geopolitical
environment, assured independence and freedom of action.
Conservative voices in Vietnam's leadership remain wary of U.S.
intentions, but their influence is waning as the country's young
population -- the first generation in memory to live without war --
looks to the West. The United States is Vietnam's largest export
market and third largest overall trade partner, and U.S. investment
in Vietnam continues to grow. Vietnam also sees in the United
States an increasingly important source of investment and financial
and technical assistance. We see this quite explicitly in the
context of our environmental and science and technology
interactions, where our Vietnamese partners repeatedly seek broader
and deeper cooperation. Strategically, Vietnam increasingly views
the U.S. presence in the region as a force for stability, a
perspective evident in the inaugural rounds of Political-Defense and
Policy Planning talks, held October 6 and 31, respectively. Vietnam
is also taking a more active role in multilateral diplomacy, both as
a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and as an emerging
leader in ASEAN. In addition to supporting regional efforts to
combat infectious disease and mitigate climate change, we are
encouraging Vietnam to play a more proactive, constructive role at
the UNSC and to contribute to global peacekeeping operations.

3. (SBU) Profound differences remain, however, particularly in our
approach to human rights. While Vietnam has made strides in
improving religious freedom -- resulting in the country being
removed from the list of "Countries of Particular Concern" -- there
has not been a corresponding improvement in political rights or
press freedom. Suspicion over our human rights reporting and
advocacy almost certainly are a main reason for the cumbersome
restrictions that the GVN continues to place on our HCMC consulate
operations. Although Vietnamese are overall quite positive about
the United States, they react defensively to criticism, particularly
on human rights, and tend to counter with references to "legacies of
the war," in particular Agent Orange. We have our differences too
on how Vietnam approaches international issues. While taking its
UNSC obligations seriously, Vietnam's non-interventionist line has
caused it to align with Russia and China on issues such as Georgia
and Darfur. China, understandably, remains Vietnam's strategic
obsession and provides the subtext for Hanoi's "friends to all"
foreign policy -- an approach that can at first seem naive, but
which is firmly rooted in real politic.

Climate Change

4. (U) Thanks to your support, during Prime Minister Dung's recent
visit to Washington, the two nations agreed to set up a new joint
subcommittee under the existing bilateral Science and Technology
Agreement to advance specific areas of cooperation on climate change
adaptation and mitigation. The two nations have named co-chairs for
the subcommittee and those co-chairs are finalizing terms of
reference for the group in anticipation of the first meeting in
early 2009. Also during the Prime Minister's visit, the United
States and Vietnam announced the creation of the Delta Research and
Global Observation Network (DRAGON) Institute at Can Tho University.
Supported by the U.S. Geological Survey, the DRAGON Institute will
facilitate cooperation among scientists and policy makers to address
environmental issues, especially climate change, threatening the
Mekong Delta. You will lead the U.S. delegation attending the
official opening of the Institute in Can Tho on November 20.

HANOI 00001258 002 OF 005

5. (U) The June 2008 Joint Statement between President Bush and
Prime Minister Dung prominently mentioned climate change and
reflected the high level attention the GVN now pays to this issue.
Prime Minister Dung recently agreed to chair the GVN steering
committee on climate change and the Prime Minister expects to
release the Vietnamese National Target Program on climate change
within the next few weeks. While the Ministry of Natural Resources
and Environment (MONRE) will coordinate GVN climate change policy,
several other ministries, particularly the Ministry of Agriculture
and Rural Development (MARD), will play important roles in
developing GVN adaptation and mitigation responses. Vietnamese
officials now are well-versed about the environmental, social,
economic, and security threats posed by rising sea levels, higher
temperatures, and changing storm patterns.

6. (U) U.S. climate change support has expanded rapidly over the
past few years. Mission Vietnam works to assure coordination among
U.S. agencies, with our Vietnamese partners, and with other
international donors. Various U.S. agencies, including USAID, the
U.S. Forest Service, and NOAA participate in projects that directly
or indirectly support Vietnam's climate change response. Expanded
cooperation from the U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Nuclear
Regulatory Commission to support the creation of the necessary
safety and security infrastructure for Vietnam's planned civilian
nuclear power sector may help mitigate Vietnam's future greenhouse
gas emissions. Locally, the United States plays an active role in
the Donor Coordinating Committee on Climate Change headed by UNDP.

Wildlife Protection

7. (SBU) Domestic consumption and regional exports of wild animal
products threaten Vietnam's once-abundant wildlife. Vietnam serves
as a source, destination, and transit point for the illegal wildlife
trade. According to the Vietnam office of INTERPOL, illegally
traded wildlife in Vietnam primarily consists of pangolins, various
species of rare snakes, and monkeys, with an annual value in the
tens of millions dollars. Within Vietnam, the lucrative illegal
wildlife trade attracts a diverse group of participants, ranging
from farmers and underemployed rural villagers to high-ranking
government officials and well-connected trading companies. Lack of
high-level political will hamstrings GVN enforcement of wildlife
protection laws, but increasingly strong NGO-funded public education
campaigns, and a bureaucratic framework of protection that's already
in place, may help turn the tide. However, since Vietnamese craving
for wild meat and animal-based traditional medicines seemingly trump
conservation concerns, changing the behavior of Vietnamese consumers
is critical.

8. (SBU) Vietnam became a member of CITES in 1994 and domestic law
requires permits to import and export threatened wildlife. Over the
past decade the GVN has issued numerous strategies and decrees to
protect wild fauna and flora and the Vietnamese criminal code
authorizes stiff penalties, including long jail sentences, for those
involved in the illegal wildlife trade. However, as in many
developing countries, enforcement remains the issue. The Forest
Protection Department (FPD) within MARD has primary (but not
exclusive) responsibility for the protection of Vietnamese flora and
fauna. However, FPD must coordinate with many of the other entities
with wildlife protection responsibilities, including local police
forces, customs officials, and border guards, and has no enforcement
powers. The Environmental Police Department, recently established
by the powerful Ministry of Public Security, has jumped into
wildlife protection and earns strong marks from local NGOs.
Nevertheless, while various entities within the GVN initiated over
600 criminal investigations over the past eight years, they have
targeted a small fraction of the trade.

9. (U) Through the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network, the United
States has paired with prominent international wildlife NGOs to
provide a full range of training programs to Vietnamese wildlife
protection agencies. In August, ASEAN WEN sponsored a conference
for Vietnamese prosecutors, judges, and environmental police to meet
with their counterparts from the United States, Malaysia, and
Indonesia to share information about regional wildlife trafficking,
wildlife crimes in Vietnam, and challenges facing Vietnamese efforts
to respond to wildlife smuggling. A local NGO, Education for Nature
Vietnam (ENV), recently received State Department grant to host a
seminar bringing together wildlife protection NGOs from throughout
Asia to strengthen regional cooperation in the battle against
wildlife trafficking. Additionally, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service funds an ENV project focused on stopping the illegal tiger

Agent Orange/Dioxin

HANOI 00001258 003 OF 005

10. (SBU) While debate continues over the possible human effects of
exposure to dioxin, a contaminant in the wartime defoliant Agent
Orange, recent environmental studies show that dioxin contamination
is concentrated in approximately 20 "hotspots," mostly areas within
former U.S. airbases where Agent Orange was stored, loaded and
transferred. Areas subjected to heavy aerial spraying do not
currently have soil concentrations considered hazardous. The United
States and Vietnam have not reached agreement on the scope of
possible health effects, with Vietnam continuing to argue that over
three million handicapped can trace their disabilities to dioxin
exposure. We do not believe that this figure can be supported by
scientifically-sound data and analysis. Statements that describe
every child born with a birth defect anywhere in Vietnam as a
"victim of agent orange" are common and remain a favorite propaganda
tool for persons opposed to closer U.S.-Vietnam relations. However,
our engagement on this issue has accomplished much, in both
transforming the tone of the dialogue and capacity building to
address environmental issues and provide assistance for the

11. (SBU) Since 2001, the USG has spent over USD 2 million to
initiate technical dialogues, scientific conferences on the effects
of AO/dioxin, and fund a 4-year project to build the capacity of
Vietnamese scientists to analyze soil samples collected from the
Danang airport. The Joint Advisory Committee (JAC) for Agent
Orange/dioxin, which brings together scientists and researchers from
both governments to provide science-based advice to policy makers
for potential environmental and health cooperation, held its third
annual meeting in September, during which Vietnamese and U.S.
members set up task forces to implement health and remediation
recommendations. An EPA remediation expert, currently serving as an
Embassy Science Fellow in Hanoi, is working with the remediation
task force to develop a remediation work plan for Danang. USAID has
started to implement a USD 3 million Congressional appropriation for
"dioxin mitigation and health activities," with the recent
announcement of USD 1 million in grants to three partner
organizations to strengthen services for the disabled in Danang. We
continue to work with the GVN, UNDP, Ford Foundation and other
donors to form a multilateral coalition to environmental remediation
of three priority hotspots in Danang, Hoa Binh and Phu Cat


12. (U) The Greater Mekong Sub-region harbors one of the world's
most diverse ecosystems and supports millions of people who rely
directly on forest and river habitats. The Asia Regional
Biodiversity Conservation Program (ARBCP), supported by USAID, is a
regional biodiversity conservation landscape program designed to
conserve natural resources and biodiversity in Vietnam. With its
implementing partners -- Winrock International and the World
Conservation Union-IUCN, the United States aims to conserve the
region's biodiversity through economic development methods that will
promote livelihood security for the rural poor. This April, the
U.S. Forest Service and the Vietnamese Forest Protection Department
signed a Letter of Intent to increase cooperation in several areas,
notably biodiversity conservation. In June, the U.S. Museum of
Natural History and Vietnam's Institute of Biology and Creature
began implementing a bio-diversity conservation project in three
central Vietnamese provinces. The USAID-supported Responsible Asia
Forest (RAFT) program recently started work in Vietnam to improve
the quality and extent of sustainable management of forest resources
and biodiversity.

Balancing Environment and Economic Growth

13. (SBU) Vietnam's rapid economic growth has strained its ability
to protect the environment. In particular, the GVN has not been
able to control growing pollution, particularly from booming Export
Processing Zones and Industrial Parks. Recently, local media has
turned its focus onto this issue, highlighting several cases of
egregious violations of Vietnamese pollution control laws. We have
also seen growing concern about the environment from average
Vietnamese, particularly the wealthier urbanized population, which
now concerns itself with quality of life issues as well as economic
well being. While the GVN has drafted an array of environmental
laws, it lacks the ability (and perhaps the will) to enforce these
provisions and lacks sufficient penalties to deter illegal behavior.
Our counterparts in the Environmental Police Department and Vietnam
Environmental Protection Agency frequently request assistance from
legislative drafting to technical training to financial assistance.
To date, U.S. support for these "brown" issues has been modest. We
have identified the need to balance economic growth with
environmental protection as perhaps the most important future ESTH
issue in Vietnam and strive to document many of the areas in which
U.S. assistance could make a difference.

HANOI 00001258 004 OF 005

Science and Technology Cooperation

14. (U) In the eight years since the United States and Vietnam
signed our bilateral Agreement on Scientific and Technical
Cooperation, such cooperation has steadily increased. In February,
you co-chaired the sixth U.S.-Vietnam Joint Commission Meeting,
during which the two delegations reviewed the broad nature of
ongoing collaborative efforts. As you will recall, the Vietnamese
brought over 40 delegates to Washington, reflecting the importance
which they attach to U.S.-Vietnamese efforts. Since the JCM, the
two governments have moved forward in several areas, including road
safety and nuclear cooperation. At the same time, the private
sector and academic institutions continue to link up in a variety of
areas. While Vietnam's scientific research and development
capacities remain limited, the GVN recently formed the Vietnamese
National Science Foundation and the local government in Ho Chi Minh
City provides substantial funding for S&T activities. We also have
seen a dramatic increase in Vietnamese college and graduate students
traveling to study in the United States, many of whom (with GVN
encouragement) focus on the sciences and engineering.

Health Development, including HIV/AIDS

15. (U) Approximately eighty percent of all U.S. official
development assistance to Vietnam focuses on health issues, and our
cooperative efforts to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS and combat avian
influenza (AI) are the hallmarks of our bilateral health
relationship. In 2005, Vietnam became one of fifteen focus
countries under the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Led
by the Ambassador and jointly planned and implemented by USAID,
HHS/CDC, and DOD, the program focuses on prevention, care and
treatment for those infected and strengthening of the health system
in Vietnam. The program continues to successfully build local
capacity to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and to provide care,
treatment and support for an increasing proportion of the estimated
302,000 Vietnamese currently infected with HIV. As of April 2008,
89,605 individuals received counseling and testing for HIV/AIDS,
while 45,736 individuals had been provided with HIV/AIDS palliative
care. From an initial budget of USD 17.3 million, PEPFAR funding has
grown to USD 88.5 million for FY 2008 with a cumulative total of
226.3 million since 2004. About 25 percent has gone directly to the
Government of Vietnam (GVN). In FY 09 the USG will again receive
approximately USD 88 million in PEPFAR funding aimed at preventing
new infections, providing care to 110,000 persons, including orphans
and vulnerable children, and supporting anti-Retroviral treatment
for 22,000 patients.

Avian Influenza (AI)

16. (U) USG AI-related assistance has focused on preventing a
pandemic, including strengthening emergency preparedness, building
veterinary laboratory capacity, animal vaccination campaigns, animal
surveillance and response, and public awareness. In FY2008, the USG
became the largest bilateral donor, surpassing investment by the
Government of Japan, with contributions totaling USD 12.4 million
(double the amount from FY2007). Since 2005, the USG has provided
USD 34.6 million to counter the threat of avian influenza to
Vietnam. U.S. efforts have made a difference in Vietnam's fight to
contain highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) and have
contributed to Vietnam's overall efforts to improve health systems
capacity. With international assistance, the GVN took quick action
to contain AI, and has been rewarded with a notable drop in the
number and intensity of animal outbreaks and human infections.
Vietnam has moved from an emergency response phase (evident from
late 2003 through the epidemic waves of 2006) into a crisis
management phase. However, Vietnam now needs to develop a
sustainable long-term strategy focusing on improved poultry
management practices to minimize the risk of a pandemic. Though
internal GVN communications difficulties sometimes delay
notification to the international health community, and bureaucratic
friction may slow sample sharing, our Vietnamese counterparts remain
committed to the campaign.

Other Health Issues

17. (SBU) Our health diplomacy program extends into many other
areas, including assistance to combat other infectious diseases
(including cholera, tuberculosis, malaria and dengue fever), road
safety, and food safety. U.S. financial support is complemented by
the provision of in-kind technical assistance as we seek to assist
Vietnam in the challenging road of health sector reform, given the
rapid pace of economic change and modernization. U.S. assistance,
largely focused on targeted, disease-specific programs, has provided

HANOI 00001258 005 OF 005

tangible benefits to the people of Vietnam. Yet, we need to
continue these collaborative efforts, while assisting Vietnam to
create a public health system responsive to the needs of its
population. Increasingly, we try to focus on two principal
challenges to health sector reform: insufficient human resource
capacity and the insufficient pace and quality in implementing
policies necessary to ensure the health of Vietnamese citizens.

Economic Successes and Challenges

18. (SBU) After a decade of isolation and failed economic policies,
Vietnam is determined to catch up with the Asian tigers. Vietnam's
"doi moi" (renovation) program of economic reform, begun in 1986,
has set the country on a successful market economy path, with an
average growth rate of 7.5 percent over the past decade. A recent
World Bank study described Vietnam's poverty reduction rate as the
most significant in such a short period of time of any nation in
history. The GVN focuses on exports and foreign direct investment
in its drive to achieve middle-income status by 2010.

19. (U) The United States is currently Vietnam's largest export
market and third largest overall trade partner. Total two-way trade
in goods with the United States in 2007 was USD 12.53 billion, up 29
percent from 2006. One of the most positive stories from 2007 was
the surge in U.S. exports to Vietnam which rose 73 percent from USD
1.1 billion to USD 1.9 billion. Driven by the technology industry,
the United States is Vietnam's seventh largest investor, with USD
2.6 billion in registered FDI since 1988, and USD 2 billion more in
"U.S.-related investment."

20. (SBU) While the great majority of experts consider Vietnam's
long-term economic prospects to be bright, short-term macroeconomic
imbalances are worrying investors. Vietnam's current turmoil is
rooted in high inflation (27 percent year-on-year), the large
current account deficit, and inefficient allocation of resources,
which is particularly obvious in the disproportionate amount of
state resources devoted to powerful State Owned Enterprises (SOEs).
Economic instability threatens many of the tentative steps the GVN
has taken to address environmental issues or to fund science and
technology research and development.

What You Can Expect

21. (SBU) You can expect your interlocutors not only to be
articulate and well informed, but also to actively seek increased
bilateral cooperation, particularly in the form of U.S. assistance.
You may also hear some of your hosts (or, more likely, the press)
raise Agent Orange/dioxin, whether or not the subject fits within
the bounds of the scheduled discussion. While lingering suspicions
still exist among conservatives in leadership about the development
of closer ties with the United States, such concerns rarely enter
the calculus of cooperation on environment, science, technology and
health issues. We expect press interest in your visit with strong
turnout at any press events and at the opening of the DRAGON
Institute in Can Tho.

22. (SBU) We look forward to your visit and stand ready to do
everything we can to make your time in Vietnam as productive as


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