Cablegate: Deputy Foreign Minister On Iraq, Relations with U.S.

Published: Fri 28 Mar 2003 09:48 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: A. 02 Hanoi 3023 B. Hanoi 702 C. Hanoi 0567
1. (SBU) Summary. Over an informal dinner on March 27, Deputy
Foreign Minister Le Van Bang and the Ambassador discussed
differences over Iraq and their effect on the bilateral
relationship. They also explored ways to move the relationship
forward, including a series of high level visits, a possible
government/private sector conference in August, and GVN outreach
efforts within the U.S. overseas Vietnamese communities. A long-
time proponent of improving U.S.-Vietnam relations, Bang was ever
the optimist about the future of the relationship and the need to
separate policy disagreements from a thriving trade relationship.
Bang and the Ambassador agreed, however, that continued harsh GVN
rhetoric on Iraq and a long war there could well slow down the
growth of relations. Given the enduring "special" Vietnam-Iraq
relationship, however, it is unlikely that the GVN will temper
its criticism over Iraq any time soon. Assistant Foreign
Minister Nguyen Duc Hung and the DCM also attended the dinner.
End summary.
2. (SBU) Candid discussion on GVN statements on Iraq dominated
much of the conversation. The Ambassador informed Bang that
Washington was concerned about the harsh and sometimes insulting
language of GVN statements and editorials on Iraq. He warned
Bang that if it continued much beyond this week, it would
inevitably affect the nature of the bilateral relationship.
Vietnam could even be grouped with countries in disfavor with the
USG, and that could affect USG programs here.
3. (SBU) The Ambassador also noted a series of actions by GVN
officials to limit or postpone contact with American officials
and programs. One of the most disturbing, he noted, was the
possible snubbing of the American Chamber of Commerce at a major
business conference organized by the Office of the Prime Minister
in HCMC this week. There, a senior GVN official apparently told
the president of AmCham HCMC that he needed to at least mention
the Iraq situation in his speech, since many in the audience "did
not think AmCham or an American should speak" because of the war.
The private citizen American was understandably confused about a
political quid pro quo at a speaking engagement. The Ambassador
noted how foolish it was for the GVN to mix disagreement over
Iraq policy with business in ways that could discourage Americans
from investing and trading here.
4. (SBU) Citing other examples of recent official GVN coolness
toward us, the Ambassador told Bang that previously confirmed
appointments with the Justice Minister and with provincial
officials in Quang Nam and Quang Ngai had been cancelled at the
last minute, apparently because of U.S. policy toward Iraq. The
DCM noted that a group of GVN environmental officials cancelled
their IVG visit to the States at the last minute, apparently
because of Iraq.
5. (SBU) Bang recalled that he had informed the Ambassador
several weeks ago that the GVN would cancel visits for a short
time if the U.S. started military operations in Iraq. He
admitted that he was aware of the Ambassador's planned trip to
Quang Ngai and Quang Nam, and that the GVN had decided it was not
appropriate for provincial officials to meet with the Ambassador
at this time because of Iraq. Bang also agreed that it was
unwise to let disagreement on Iraq affect the overall
business/commercial relationship, and stressed that both
countries should continue efforts to make it grow. He stressed
that in the long run Iraq should not negatively affect the
expansion of U.S.-Vietnam relations.
6. (SBU) In a stretch of logic that neither the Ambassador nor
DCM could understand, Bang then attempted to explain why GVN
statements on Iraq were actually milder than they could have
been. He claimed that GVN statements had referred to "U.S.
authorities" (meaning a group of people) rather than the U.S.
government as a whole, which would be considered much worse in a
Vietnamese context. (The actual translation is "powerholders,"
not "authorities -- ref b.) He stated several times that there
were those in the government who did not want Iraq to affect the
relationship, but that veterans in senior positions were calling
for tough statements. Some people even wanted to go to Iraq to
fight. They were the ones driving the policy at the moment.
7. (SBU) Another concern for the GVN, according to Bang, were
the demonstrators who spontaneously formed in front of the
embassy every day. They were, he claimed, "not under control"
and were reflecting popular opinion. Assistant Minister Hung
asserted that the GVN could not control them and was worried that
they might resort to violence at some point.
8. (SBU) Without quite saying, "Let's get real, folks," the
Ambassador pointed out that government television trucks appeared
well before the demonstrators did, that demonstrators told the
embassy they had received about $1 to participate, and that the
GVN had proved itself quite adept at arresting those who were
peacefully expressing their views on human rights or democracy.
The Ambassador said that in any event he was not concerned about
the demonstrators because the U.S. believed in the peaceful
expression of opinion. The concern of the USG, he emphasized,
was over the harsh tone of the official commentaries -- by Party
organs or the Government -- on the war, the cancelled meetings,
and their potential for affecting the relationship if they
continued much beyond this week. Later in the conversation, Bang
acknowledged that universities and veteran groups had organized
many of the demonstrations.
Moving the Relationship Forward - Visits and the Human Rights Act
--------------------------------------------- -------------------
9. (U) The Deputy Minister and the Ambassador talked at length
about ways to move the relationship forward. Bang raised the
timing of upcoming visits to the U.S. by Deputy Prime Minister
Vu Khoan and Prime Minister Phan Van Khai. He proposed
June/July for Khoan, but observed that the war in Iraq would have
to be over by then. The Ambassador suggested informally that
September/October might be a good time for the Prime Minister to
visit (since it was more than a year before the next U.S. general
election). The Ambassador also noted that both sides needed to
pin down a date for the visit of the Defense Minister.
10. (U) Bang suggested a new idea to highlight the developing
relationship. He proposed holding a symposium on the bilateral
relationship in Hai Phong or Ha Long Bay in the first week of
August, which would be attended by government officials (Bang
suggested DAS Matt Daley and the Ambassador from the U.S. side),
businesspeople and NGO representatives. The Ford Foundation had
agreed to fund the symposium and it would be co-organized by the
Foreign Ministry's Institute for International Relations (IIR)
and an American counterpart, possibly the Asia Foundation.
11. (SBU) To no one's surprise, Bang raised the likelihood of the
introduction of a Vietnam Human Rights Act in Congress, a move
that "would again affect the bilateral relationship in a very
negative way." With that as his cue, the Ambassador spelled out
for Bang the recent series of unhelpful GVN actions to arrest or
detain a number of prominent Vietnamese for doing nothing more
than peacefully expressing their views on human rights and other
topics. Among those he mentioned were Nguyen Dan Que, Le Chi
Quang, Tran Khue, Phan Que Duong, and Father Ly. With shrugs of
apparent frustration, both Bang and Hung lamely asserted that
they had violated the law and, in case of Que, had been
communicating with U.S.-based groups to "oppose" the GVN.
Bang did agree that the timing of Que's arrest could not have
been worse.
12. (SBU) The Ambassador informed Bang that the U.S. Mission in
Vietnam would grow as the relationship broadened and expanded.
He reminded Bang that the Embassy had been waiting more than a
month for an appointment to discuss pending visas for staff
assigned to new positions in Hanoi and HCMC. While agreeing in
principle that the U.S. Mission should and could grow, Bang said
that that was not likely to happen until the Department
considered the longstanding GVN request for its UN Mission to
issue visas. Bang said he wanted two employees at Vietnam's UN
Mission to be authorized to issue visas. The Ambassador pointed
out that the USG also had a longstanding, unanswered consular
issue concerning its request for the GVN to broaden ConGen HCMC's
consular district in the south. (Topic covered in full septel.)
Outreach to the Viet Kieu - Will Reconciliation Take Generations?
----- --------------------------------------------- -------------
13. (SBU) The discussion then turned to national reconciliation
and to the overseas Vietnamese communities in the U.S. (the Viet
Kieu). Bang observed that while the Viet Kieu who actively
opposed the GVN were few in number, they had considerable
influence with certain Members of Congress. As a former
ambassador to the U.S., he admitted that the Vietnamese Embassy
in Washington lacked an effective outreach program to the Viet
Kieu, a situation that, he said, stemmed from a lack of depth,
training and experience within the Vietnamese Foreign Service.
He agreed that the GVN needed to do more to promote
reconciliation with the overseas Vietnamese and said that he
would explore ways to assign someone to Washington with the right
mix of experience, language, interpersonal, and cultural skills.
He joked that he might go back for a tour to see his "old
friends" in the Vietnamese community in the U.S.
14. (SBU) The Ambassador emphasized to Bang the importance of
reconciling with the GVN's overseas Vietnamese detractors. He
pointed out that many are very influential and told Bang that Dr.
Que's brother was present during his call on Virginia Senator
George Allen before he arrived in Vietnam. The Ambassador
recounted a rather unpleasant exchange with Deputy Prime Minister
Nguyen Tan Dung a few weeks ago when he suggested to Dung that it
would help reconciliation if the GVN invited former South
Vietnamese leaders like ex-president Nguyen Cao Ky to return for
a visit (ref c). At the suggestion, Dung's face, he said,
suddenly grew serious and the DPM almos exploded with anger.
With this attitude, the Ambassador told Bang (and Dung),
reconciliation would take generations. Bang replied that the
Ambassador might have better luck in raising the suggestion with
Deputy Prime Minister Vu Khoan, Foreign Minister Nguyen Dy Nien,
former Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Man Cam, than with former
military or security men like DPM Dung.
15. (SBU) Despite Bang's continuing optimism and proactive
approach to U.S. policy, the GVN is unlikely to heed our warning
to temper its troublesome language on Iraq any time soon. The
GVN frequently highlights its pre-1975 "special" relationship
with Iraq, and those in the GVN and party leadership with wartime
experience and suspicion of the U.S. remain influential.
Nonetheless, the fact that two senior MFA officials agreed to
meet and talk with us informally and candidly is encouraging.
The dinner meeting, which Bang hosted, was obviously intended to
show that Vietnam's relationship with the U.S. remains important.
Despite deep disagreement over Iraq, we will continue to pursue
our programs here and our efforts to expand the relationship in
areas that serve our interests.
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