Visit Foretells Positive Future
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
April 26, 2000 -- This spring marks the 25th anniversary of the
end of the Vietnam War. Saigon fell to North Vietnamese forces on
April 25, 1975, marking the tragic end to U.S. involvement in Southeast
Minister of Foreign Affairs Nguyen Duy Nien (right) meets in his Hanoi office with
Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen on March 14, 2000. Cohen is the first U.S. defense
secretary to visit Vietnam since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. DoD photo by
Helene C. Stikkel.
In recent years, U.S. officials
have restored ties with Vietnam in an effort to promote prosperity and stability in
the region. William S. Cohen traveled to Southeast Asia in March 2000 to become the
first U.S. defense secretary to visit Vietnam since the war ended. His visit to Hanoi
was the first ever by a U.S. defense secretary.
Cohen's goal was simple: to
put aside the past and move into the future. Both nations were scarred by the Vietnam
War and both need to move forward, he said. Melvin Laird had been the last defense
secretary to see Vietnam, in 1971.
The fact that America's defense
secretary was invited to Vietnam and accepted the invitation is a positive sign, Cohen
said. Other U.S. government branches have already progressed in restoring diplomatic
and trade ties. This is the fifth year of normalization, he said, and it's now time
to establish military ties.
"To the extent that Vietnam
wants to interact with outside countries,
then it would make sense for us to
have a military relationship, provided it's in the context of a diplomatic, trade
and economic relationship," Cohen said. "That's all part of one package."
Speaking to about 28 staff
and faculty members at the Vietnamese defense academy in Hanoi, Cohen expressed U.S.
intentions to restore military ties, including ship visits and military exchanges.
"The United States has resolved
to move forward with Vietnam in a manner that serves our mutual interests in regional
stability, security and prosperity," he said. "In cautious, but certain steps, our
two nations can work together where common purpose allows, to create a better future
for both of our peoples.
"The United States believes
that the security of both our nations can be enhanced by working together," he concluded.
"Together, and in partnership with other nations of this region, we can write a new
history of peace and prosperity." Cohen
said three principles would guide U.S. policy in developing its security relationship
ties will develop along with overall diplomatic and trade relations.
relations will remain open so neither nation misunderstands the other's intentions.
for Americans still missing in action will remain the highest priority.
Vietnamese officials told Cohen
they also are looking to the future. They want to solve issues through peaceful means
with respect to international law and practice, according to Maj. Gen. Nguyen The
Tri, superintendent of the academy.
"The security of every nation
nowadays is inseparable from the security of the region," he said through an interpreter.
"Therefore, Vietnam has been actively contributing to preserving peace and stability
in Southeast Asia."
of Defense William S. Cohen (left) thanks some members of Joint Task Force Full Accounting
for their painstaking and often dirty work in the search and recovery of remains of
U.S. servicemen unaccounted for during the Vietnam War at a crash excavation site
near Hanoi, Vietnam, on March 13, 2000. Cohen traveled to the site to see firsthand
the efforts being made and the process involved in the search and recovery of the
remains of U.S. servicemen unaccounted for during the Vietnam War. According to an
eyewitness account, a Navy F-4B Phantom crashed at the site in May 1967. DoD photo
by Helene C. Stikkel.
Cohen noted that the United
States is pleased to see Vietnam participate in the Asia Pacific Center in Hawaii
and in the regional forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. "Our mutual
prosperity depends on a Pacific region in which regional issues are resolved, not
by confrontation, but by cooperation," he said.
In Hanoi, Cohen met with Prime
Minister Phan Van Khai, Defense Minister Phan Van Tra and other officials. He said
he suggested confidence-building measures would be the best way to achieve broad,
extensive military-to-military relations and discussed future cooperative efforts
in demining, military support for natural disasters, sharing medical knowledge about
tropical diseases, and search and rescue operations.
"We'll have to have great transparencies
so that no one can misconstrue or miscalculate what this relationship entails," he
said. Both sides want to proceed in "a prudent and responsible fashion and should
not overestimate what can be accomplished in a short period of time."
Following his meetings, Cohen
traveled to an excavation site where U.S. and Vietnamese officials hope to recover
the remains of a U.S. pilot, Navy Cmdr. Richard Rich of Stamford, Conn. Rich's F-4B
Phantom jet was reportedly shot down in May 1967 near Don Phu Village, about 30 kilometers
southwest of Hanoi.
Throughout his visit, the secretary
stressed that accounting for America's missing service members involves a sacred trust.
Cohen said his visit to the site symbolizes to all that the search for missing Americans
will continue. The visit highlighted "the degree of difficulty involved, the kind
of painstaking measures we are going through, the level of cooperation on the part
of the Vietnamese, and recognizes the importance we place upon this."
Just as the United States is
searching for its more than 2,000 missing, the Vietnamese are also investigating their
own 300,000 cases. Cohen said both sides agreed to continue their cooperation in this
quest for closure.
Joint recovery efforts have
already enhanced cooperation and led to broader contacts between U.S. and Vietnamese
armed forces, Cohen said. "By helping the families of the missing, we have helped
to establish our working ties."
Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Pham Van Tra (left) escorts Secretary of Defense William
S. Cohen (right) as he inspects the troops during an armed forces honors ceremony
at the Ministry of Defense Guest House in Hanoi, Vietnam, on March 13, 2000. Cohen
is the first U.S. defense secretary to visit Vietnam since the end of the Vietnam
War in 1975. DoD photo by Helene C. Stikkel.
In Ho Chi Minh City, Cohen
called on Lt. Gen. Phan Trung Kien, commander, 7th Military Region, and Vo Viet Thanh,
Ho Chi Minh Municipal People's Committee chairman. The two told Cohen that, since
the war, people have concentrated on reconstruction and improving living standards.
The city, on the shores of
the Mekong River in southern Vietnam, is made up of the pre-1975 Saigon and Cholon.
Saigon is still referred to as "Saigon City." The city population is 6 million now,
up from 2.5 million in 1975.
By working together, Cohen
told the Vietnamese, the United States and Vietnam can build a better future. The
secretary said he hoped relations with Vietnam would "unfold in a very positive way
so that Vietnam can enjoy the prosperity of the entire region."
Vietnam's greatest asset, Cohen
said, is its people. "The light emanating from the eyes of the Vietnamese children,
the people, is one of incredible energy, intelligence, exuberance, love of life,"
he said. "That is going to be a great natural resource for them as they move into
Cohen told reporters the reception
he received from the Vietnamese was "warm, open and cordial." Overall, he said, the
visit was "very productive" and "extremely positive."
He acknowledged that his visit
was largely symbolic. "But I think that it will be very helpful in leading to greater
contact in the future and a more positive relationship. It was well worth the effort,"