U.S. State Department Geographic Bureaus: East Asia and Pacific Bureau

U.S. Department of State
95/07/12 Testimony: Winston Lord on Vietnam
Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs

TESTIMONY OF
WINSTON LORD
ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR
EAST ASIAN AND PACIFIC AFFAIRS

OPENING STATEMENT OF AMBASSADOR WINSTON LORD
HOUSE INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS COMMITTEE
JULY 12, 1995

Mr. Chairman, distinguished members of the Committee,

I welcome the opportunity to appear before you to discuss Vietnam. As you know, President Clinton announced yesterday his decision to establish full diplomatic relations with Vietnam. We believe this bold step can further the healing process for our nation and move us towards reconciliation among ourselves and with a former enemy. As President Clinton said yesterday, "This step will...help our own country to move forward on an issue that has separated Americans from each other for too long now....This moment offers us the opportunity to bind up our own wounds....We can now move on to common grounds. Whatever divided us before, let us consign to the past. Let this moment, in the words of the scripture, be a time to heal and a time to build."

The President made his decision to move forward with Vietnam on the unanimous recommendation of all his top advisors as well as our personnel overseas and at home engaged in the search for information on MIA's. It was also supported by many veterans and former POW's, including some in Congress who stood with the President yesterday.

I want to emphasize that the President's decision to establish diplomatic relations with Vietnam, as well as the other incremental steps taken over the years, was based on effective

Vietnamese cooperation which has led to progress on POW/MIA accounting. In reaching his decision, the President considered the Department of Defense's assessment of the documents recently turned over to a Presidential Delegation visiting Hanoi, high-level Vietnamese pledges of continued cooperation, and the record of other Vietnamese actions in POW/MIA accounting. On this basis, the President determined further tangible progress could best be promoted through closer bilateral ties.

Mr. Chairman, since 1993, I have made four trips to Vietnam, three as part of Presidential Delegations. During these visits, I have had the privilege of viewing firsthand the painstaking work of those devoted and loyal Americans who are working to resolve the outstanding POW/MIA cases. Some of these endure the heat and humidity of Southeast Asia's jungles and the ruggedness of the region's mountainous terrain. Others work diligently in laboratories in Hawaii to identify individuals from tiny bone fragments and scraps of personal effects. Still others seek answers in Pentagon offices, sifting shreds of information from documents and witness reports.

I could regale you with many stories of the hardships these Americans face in their efforts to account for our missing personnel, but I will share only two today. The excavation and recovery of remains from one case required the establishment of a base camp on the side of a mountainous rock formation with a slope from 30 to 60 degrees. The twelve U.S. and fifteen Vietnamese recovery team members had to climb more than an hour from the base camp and the terrain was so steep that at points it required scaling rock faces hand over hand. Over the next two and a half weeks, the team climbed an hour each day from the base camp to the site, excavating at the site, then climbed for an hour back to the base camp.

The immediate area of the crash was a rocky slope 40 to 45 degrees in grade. Working from the lowest elevation to the heights at the site, the team worked over the next sixteen days removing surface rock, scraping and sifting through screens the associated soil, aircraft debris and human remains. The excavation yielded 187 bone fragments, 16 human teeth, personal effects, life support equipment, and other wreckage.

In another case, the recovery teams had to excavate a fishpond. To prevent the collapse of the adjoining rice paddies into the pond as it was drained, the team had to dam up the edges with woven-bamboo matting held in place by stakes. For six weeks the team sifted and washed the mud and muck from the pond, eventually recovering bone fragments, teeth with restorations, and two gold wedding bands.

These vignettes illustrate not only the hard work of our dedicated Americans, but also the level of cooperation we receive from the Vietnamese. Vietnamese teams work jointly with American teams during Joint Field Activities (JFA's). Vietnamese government officials at the national, provincial and local level have permitted us access to all parts of their country in our search for missing personnel. Vietnamese laborers assist our field teams in their excavations. All of these men and women, American and Vietnamese, deserve our thanks for their dedication and hard work.

Also deserving of the nation's thanks is General John Vessey who has worked tirelessly to resolve the issue of missing Americans. His efforts have benefitted many families and our nation as a whole.

This Administration has been and remains committed to achieving the fullest possible accounting for our prisoners of war and missing in action in Southeast Asia. This nation has pursued the most elaborate, extensive efforts to account for our missing in action from any war. The President reiterated our commitment yesterday. To achieve this objective, we have, over the years, sought ways to encourage further progress in the accounting process. The President's decision to lift the trade embargo and establish liaison offices with Vietnam in February 1994 was based on his judgement these actions were the best way to promote further progress. The results since then have vindicated these decisions. We expect the establishment of diplomatic relations, the appropriate "next step", to lead to still further progress on this highest of national priorities.

At the time the embargo was lifted, the President stated additional steps in U.S.-Vietnam bilateral relations would depend on tangible progress toward the fullest possible accounting. He identified four key areas where progress was needed to advance the normalization process:

-- recovery and repatriation of remains; -- resolution of the remaining discrepancy cases; -- trilateral investigations with Vietnam and Laos; and -- provision of documents.

We have made significant progress in each of these areas since the beginning of this Administration. We have seen improved Vietnamese cooperation on resolving POW/MIA cases, leading to the recovery of remains which have been or are in the process of being identified, and to provision of information which has been helpful in determining the fate of some missing individuals. The Vietnamese have carried out collaborative field investigations and excavations; permitted travel throughout their country, including sensitive military areas; and granted access to prisons and graves and archives.

In the past two years, the Vietnamese have stepped up their unilateral efforts to advance the POW/MIA accounting process by locating remains, documents and witnesses. Over 180 pages of documents, many with valuable leads, were turned over to the Presidential Delegation which visited Hanoi in May. Additional documents have been passed since that visit. The Vietnamese have formed special research teams for the purpose of finding documents which may contain relevant information on our missing personnel. They are working with us and the government of Laos to find witnesses to cases in Laos. In addition, the Vietnamese government has granted amnesty to all Vietnamese citizens holding remains to encourage them to turn these over

With the establishment of diplomatic relations, our ability to further POW/MIA accounting is strengthened. Our liaison office in Hanoi will be upgraded to an Embassy. Early next month Secretary Christopher will visit Vietnam to press for further progress on MIA accounting. He will also raise other issues of concern that we can address more effectively with diplomatic relations -- human rights, the stemming of drug traffic, trade and investment opportunities, and regional security. Soon our Ambassador will be on the spot to represent directly and forcefully the interests and concerns of the President and the American people.

Let me close with the words of President Clinton yesterday: "...normalization of our relations with Vietnam is not the end of our effort. From the early days of this administration, I have said to the families and veterans groups what I say again here. We will keep working until we get all the answers we can." Be assured our commitment to this issue is firm. As we enter this new phase in our relationship with Vietnam, the POW/MIA issue will remain our central focus. We will continue to require Vietnamese cooperation at the highest levels until our objective of the fullest possible accounting is achieved.

Thank you.

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