MIA Issue Aided U.S.-Vietnam Relationship, Gates Says

HANOI, Viet­nam, Oct. 11, 2010 — Efforts to recov­er those miss­ing from the Viet­nam War have helped to trans­form the U.S.-Vietnamese rela­tion­ship in the years since the con­flict end­ed, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said here today.

“A decade of con­flict and blood­shed between our nations has giv­en way to pros­per­ous bilat­er­al rela­tions now mark­ing their fif­teenth year,” Gates said in a speech at Viet­nam Nation­al Uni­ver­si­ty.

Coop­er­a­tion in account­ing for those miss­ing in action from the war has been a key ele­ment in the relationship’s evo­lu­tion, the sec­re­tary said.

“It was our com­mit­ment to work togeth­er to find the miss­ing from the war and to address the trau­mas still felt by those in and near the con­flict that pro­vid­ed the first oppor­tu­ni­ty for our coun­tries to engage,” he said. “And it was this ini­tial coop­er­a­tion that led us to where we are today, with a vibrant rela­tion­ship that spans a range of issues.”

Both coun­tries have a “long, deep and abid­ing” com­mit­ment to locate those miss­ing in action, Gates said. Since 1998, he not­ed, almost 100 joint field activ­i­ties have led to the recov­ery, repa­tri­a­tion and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the remains of more than 100 Amer­i­cans.

“Our experts bring the equip­ment and tech­niques and go out into the field, work­ing in close coop­er­a­tion with the gov­ern­ment of Viet­nam and local Viet­namese to under­take the painstak­ing task of find­ing and recov­er­ing Amer­i­can remains,” he said. “We also pro­vide the resources and tech­ni­cal exper­tise to Viet­nam as it under­takes the same sacred task.”

Gates said he thanked Viet­namese Defense Min­is­ter Lt. Gen. Phung Quang Thanh dur­ing a Pen­ta­gon vis­it late last year for pro­vid­ing access to 13 new sites for search oper­a­tions in pre­vi­ous­ly restrict­ed mil­i­tary areas.

“I sim­i­lar­ly appre­ci­ate his deci­sion last month to pro­vide access to four addi­tion­al sites,” he added, “and hope we can expand coop­er­a­tion on this front even fur­ther.”

The sec­re­tary acknowl­edged that the work entails shared risks and loss­es, not­ing that a heli­copter car­ry­ing a joint U.S.-Vietnamese team to inves­ti­gate a site in Vietnam’s Quang Binh province crashed in 2001, killing all on board.

“We hon­or the sac­ri­fice of those 16 patri­ots lost in the line of duty,” he said, “and plans are being devel­oped by our two nations to com­mem­o­rate the 10th anniver­sary of that tragedy next April.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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