Cablegate: Tour D'horizon with Defmin General Tra

Published: Fri 7 Nov 2003 08:23 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
1. (SBU) Summary. Defense Minister Tra's meetings in
Washington next week are unlikely to produce any surprises,
but should put the full stamp of approval on better mil/mil
ties and lead to a more active program of exchanges. Tra is
keen to expand medical cooperation and also seeks more
technical assistance and equipment for demining needs. He
seemed ill-prepared to discuss IMET or an Article 98
agreement. Tra described in brief joint naval patrols with
Thailand (ongoing), the PRC (new), and Cambodia (in
abeyance). The GVN has still not made a "diplomatic
decision" that would lead to Vietnamese participation in
international peacekeeping, but demining could be an area
where Vietnam could offer contributions eventually. Tra was
a pleasant interlocutor, but appears more focused on the
optics of the visit -- sending a signal at home of better
relations -- than a substantive discussion of strategic
issues. End summary.
2. (U) Ambassador hosted Politburo member and Defense
Minister Senior General Pham Van Tra, accompanied by ten
members of his traveling delegation, at an unprecedented
dinner on November 6 at the Residence in preparation for
Tra's November 9-12 visit to the U.S. (The delegation will
then travel to Brazil and Belgium). DATT and Pol/C also
attended. The Ambassador welcomed the first-ever visit to
the U.S. by a SRV Defense Minister and expressed hope for
continued expansion of military-to-military ties as well as
overall expansion of U.S.-Vietnam relations.
Goals of the visit
3. (SBU) General Tra cited eight main goals for the trip:
-- to return the March 2000 visit to Vietnam by then-
Secretary of Defense Cohen;
-- to promote exchanges between the two militaries in order
to achieve better mutual understanding;
-- to seek ways to cooperate even more effectively on the
search for Missing in Action, and to thank the U.S. for the
information it has provided that has helped Vietnam to
conduct its own searches;
-- to request an increase in demining-related assistance,
particularly equipment needs (Tra later described demining
cooperation as only "rather good" compared to the "good"
cooperation on MIAs and medicine);
-- to increase the number of exchanges at all levels of the
-- to expand medical research cooperation (note: Tra
reiterated twice subsequently that he planned to make a
proposal on this to Secretary Rumsfeld. end note);
-- to discuss USG assistance on dealing with the
consequences of chemicals used at former U.S. bases,
particularly in Danang, Bien Hoa, and Cu Mong Pass and Phu
Cat (both in Binh Dinh province); and,
-- to invite Secretary Rumsfeld to visit further to promote
"mutual understanding and trust." Tra commented that his
trip would lead to more exchanges down the line, and also
specifically expressed a willingness to receive PACOM
Admiral Fargo in February.
4. (SBU) Ambassador noted that we share these broad
objectives, expressed appreciation for Vietnamese
cooperation on POW/MIAs, and urged the MOD use its influence
within the GVN and Prime Minister's Office to conclude
negotiations on the Level One demining survey to make it a
"deliverable" that could be signed during the December visit
to the U.S. of Deputy Prime Minister Vu Khoan. He commented
that Secretary Rumsfeld and other USG interlocutors would
also likely wish to discuss various strategic issues,
-- the role of ASEAN, especially enhancing counter-terrorism
cooperation (General Tra noted that, while the Ministry of
Public Security had the lead on this, MOD was actively
-- the rise of China and its influence in the region;
-- the threat from North Korea and any helpful role the GVN
might play in defusing the situation;
-- conclusion of an Article 98 agreement;
-- conclusion of an IMET agreement, like those the U.S. has
with most other countries in Asia; and,
-- expansion of other cooperation, including training, ship
visits, etc.
5. (SBU) General Tra cited problems in signing an IMET
agreement, but expressed interest in English language
training for MOD officials. He noted the value of an
ongoing English language program for MOD offered by the
Australians. He also expressed an interest in more MOD/DOD
cooperation on science and technology. (Note: The Director
of MOD's Military Center of Science and Technology, Lt. Gen.
Nguyen Hoa Thinh, was also at the dinner and will be a
member of Tra's delegation. DATT will seek to coordinate
meetings for him with DOD counterparts.)
Regional defense relationships
6. (SBU) General Tra explained the presence of the
Commanders of Military Regions 3 and 7 (Haiphong and Ho Chi
Minh City) on his delegation as related to their
responsibilities in receiving foreign naval ships
frequently, including the upcoming visit of a U.S. frigate.
He said that he usually undertakes two foreign trips per
year, usually with an all-Army delegation (like this one).
He pointed to the ongoing visit to Vietnam by the Thai
Defense Minister, and said that the two countries already
conducted joint naval patrols (two vessels per country) and
had seen a decrease in piracy as a result. He said that
Vietnam and China had also just reached agreement to conduct
such joint patrols. Noting that Vietnam and China still had
not reached agreement on fishing zones (which Tra
confirmed), the Ambassador asked what the mandate would be
for the joint patrols. Tra's answer was rather vague. A
similar joint patrol program with Cambodia had not worked
well due to Cambodia's lack of resources, Tra said. Once
the new government in Phnom Penh was formed, he promised
that Vietnam would make another attempt at resuming such
7. (SBU) Ambassador noted General Tra's February 2002
discussions with then-CINCPAC Admiral Blair about a possible
role for Vietnam in international peacekeeping operations,
especially as Vietnam continues its campaign for a 2008/9 UN
Security Council seat. General Tra emphasized that such a
role would require a "diplomatic decision" first within the
GVN and was not up to MOD per se. He pointed to Vietnam's
considerable experience in demining after fifty years of war
as one future possible area where the Vietnam military (both
Army and Navy) could make a contribution.
8. (SBU) General Tra proved to be a pleasant -- if
uninspiring -- interlocutor, notably less combative than in
his talks last year with Admiral Blair and separately with
the Ambassador. He will likely strive to maintain this aura
of goodwill in Washington, and will not be prepared to delve
too much into broader strategic issues or concerns. He and
MOD appear much more focused on the optics of the visit than
on any substantive outcomes or deliverables. The visit
appears designed mostly to send a signal within the
Vietnamese military and to the Vietnamese public that the
CPV and GVN have decided to move to a higher level of
mil/mil cooperation with the U.S., rather than to achieve
any specific goals vis--vis the USG at this point. It is
nonetheless an opportunity for us to convey our interests
and concerns and to take the Vietnamese up on their
willingness to engage further.
View as: DESKTOP | MOBILE © Scoop Media