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

U.S. Department of State
95/12/14 Testimony by Winston Lord on Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and
POW Issues
Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs

U.S. Policy Toward Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and the POW/MIA
Issues
Winston Lord, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and
Pacific Affairs, statement before the House Committee on National
Security, Subcommittee on Military Personnel, December 14, 1995.

Thank you Mr. Chairman. I'm pleased to have the opportunity to speak to you today about our policy regarding Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and the POW/MIA issue. This hearing is extremely timely, since it comes as we are preparing for the upcoming fourth Presidential Delegation on POW/MIA issues that will visit all three countries and on which leading veterans service organizations and the National League of Families of Prisoners of War and Missing in Action in Southeast Asia will be represented. The Presidential delegation's stop in Hanoi will be my sixth trip to Vietnam during this administration, and fourth as a member of a Presidential delegation. It will be my third visit to Laos, all in the context of Presidential delegations, and my fifth trip to Cambodia. These meetings underscore the degree of cooperation which we are receiving from each government in addressing this crucial issue and to expand relations to our mutual benefit. I will briefly address each country in turn, outlining the current state of our relations and the role of POW/MIA accounting in those relations.

VIETNAM

Obtaining the fullest possible accounting for our POW and MIAs has been and remains this Administration's highest priority with respect to Vietnam. Though U.S.-Vietnam relations are expanding into new areas, this task is at the center of our activity. I think it is important to remember that, much as some may disagree on the wisdom or timing of the particular stepsateral ties. In the first such step, in July 1993, the U.S. withdrew objections to Vietnam's access to lending from international financial institutions in light of demonstrable progress on POW/MIA accounting. At the same time, the President stated that further improvement in our relations with Vietnam would depend on Vietnamese efforts in four specific areas:

--First, the recovery and repatriation of remains of our POWs and MIAs;

--Second, the continued resolution of discrepancy cases, and continued live sighting investigations and field activities;

--Third, further assistance in implementing trilateral investigations with Laos along the Vietnam-Lao border; and

--Fourth, accelerated efforts to provide all relevant POW/MIA related documents.

All of the actions we have taken in the two and one half years since then have been based on tangible progress in these fundamental areas and on our best judgments as to what we could do to continue and accelerate this progress.

In February 1994, the President announced the lifting of the U.S. trade embargo against Vietnam and announced his intention to establish a U.S. Liaison Office in Hanoi. On January 28, 1995, the governments of the United States and Vietnam signed agreements resolving issues concerning diplomatic property and private claims and announced the opening of liaison offices in Hanoi and Washington. Following the President's decision to establish diplomatic relations with Vietnam, Secretary Christopher opened the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi on August 6.

The presence of a U.S. post in Vietnam has enhanced our ability to make progress in accounting for American POWs and MIAs, allowed us to advance our economic and political interests, and made possible provision of consular services to U.S. citizens. Since diplomatic normalization with Vietnam in July, we have continued to receive strong cooperation from the Vietnamese on matters of importance to the U.S. Most significantly, SRV cooperation in our efforts to seek the fullest possible accounting for our POW/MIAs remains vigorous. We have continued to make progress in each of the four key areas. My colleagues from the Department of Defense can provide fuller information on these issues.

As the U.S.-Vietnam relationship grows, high level contacts between our governments are increasing rapidly. Vietnam is cooperating with us on important matters such as counter-narcotics efforts. We have concluded a good settlement for U.S. private claimants against Vietnam and have settled our diplomatic property claims with Hanoi. With regard to official debt, Vietnam agreed to assume responsibility for the social and economic loans made by the U.S. government to the former Republic of Vietnam. The Vietnamese agreed in December 1993 to a framework for settling its official debts with all of its creditors. We are involved in ongoing negotiations with Vietnam under this framework on our share of its foreign debts.

In addition, the U.S. and Vietnam are engaged in an candid dialogue on human rights. As Secretary Christopher said in a speech to students in Hanoi, "Progress in this dialogue will enable our two nations to further deepen our ties." The fourth round of these talks was held in Washington on October 30. Human rights also has been on the agenda in every single significant contact between U.S. and Vietnamese officials, including at senior levels. Our human rights dialogue with Vietnam reinforces our political and economic interests across a broad spectrum. To borrow again from Secretary Christopher's speech in Hanoi, "the rule of law and accountable government are the bedrock of stability and prosperity."

On November 5, Vietnam released two American citizens, Nguyen Tan Tri and Tran Quang Liem, who had been detained since November 1993. Their release came in response to direct requests by Secretary Christopher in meetings with senior Vietnamese officials in Hanoi and in Washington in October. As you know, Mr. Chairman, given your interest in this case, we frankly disagreed with Vietnam's stated reasons for arresting and imprisoning these two Americans in the first place, but we welcomed their release as a sign of Vietnam's willingness to address our concerns in this area in the context of the overall expansion of our relationship.

Vietnam is now cooperating to promote regional security through the ASEAN Regional Forum. In the Forum, Vietnam participates actively with us and its Asian neighbors. The dialogue addresses important topics, such as conflicting claims in the South China Sea, discussions we believe can play a crucial role in maintaining peace and stability in the region. We welcomed Vietnam's admission to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this past summer. As a Pacific nation, Vietnam should make its appropriate contribution to the region's stability and prosperity.

Economic, cultural, and academic exchanges have grown at an extraordinary pace. Tens of thousands of Americans, many of Vietnamese origin, are visiting Vietnam. Last month alone the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington issued over 8,000 visas. I am sure these contacts will form the first threads of what will grow into a rich tapestry of relationships that will benefit the peoples of both countries.

We continue to provide limited humanitarian assistance to civilian war victims and displaced children and orphans in Vietnam. All of this aid goes through American non-governmental organizations; none goes directly to the Vietnamese government.

Not surprisingly, economic and trade ties are an area of great interest to the Vietnamese government in its relations with the United States, and to the American business community. Such ties are important, not merely for the mutual benefits they can bring to our two countries and economies, but also for their contribution to sustaining progress across the broad range of our bilateral agenda, including POW/MIA accounting and human rights. Accordingly, in announcing normalization of diplomatic relations with Vietnam, the President directed that the USG would implement programs to develop trade with Vietnam "consistent with U.S. law." During his August visit to Hanoi, Secretary Christopher announced our intention to negotiate a trade agreement with Vietnam.

We dispatched a fact-finding mission to Hanoi November 6-10 to explore possibilities for expanding economic relations. In addition to fact-finding, the delegation informed the Vietnamese authorities of U.S. concerns and requirements attendant to expansion of economic ties, including a bilateral trade agreement, Jackson-Vanik freedom of emigration issues, worker rights, bilateral debt, and other economic topics.

We will continue to consult closely with Congress on the unfolding process of normalization.

LAOS

I would now like to turn to Laos. In the early 1980's, the POW/MIA accounting issue provided a logical rationale for attempting to improve relations with Laos. Relations had cooled in the immediate aftermath of the war in Southeast Asia. We needed Lao cooperation in order to achieve the fullest possible accounting for the nearly 570 Americans missing in Laos at the end of the war in Southeast Asia. Following intense discussion with the Lao government, a C-130 crash site in Champassak province was surveyed in late 1983, and excavated in early 1985. Thirteen individuals were subsequently identified from remains recovered from that site. Since that time, our field activities have increased in scope and pace.

POW/MIA accounting remains the priority issue in our overall bilateral relationship with Laos. Building on the initial cooperation in the mid-1980's, Laos has cooperated in the slow, but steady expansion of our POW/MIA accounting activities. The level and scope of Lao cooperation continues to improve within the context of the limited resources available to the Lao government. I will leave the details to experts from the Department of Defense who oversee this issue. However, I would like to note briefly a number of recent positive developments which have advanced POW/MIA cooperation in Laos. Since 1985, we have conducted 40 joint field operations with Laos. In 1995, we conducted six joint field activities (JFA) with Laos, and joint teams spent approximately six months in the field. We have expanded the size of our joint teams to 40 persons from 30, comprising four rather than three elements. Laos has agreed to conduct live-sighting investigations independently of joint field activities and has permitted Vietnamese witnesses to enter Laos to assist teams during joint field activities.

It is also important to note while we appreciate the level of Lao cooperation, we do not hesitate to ask for additional help in achieving the fullest possible accounting of the remaining missing Americans in Laos. For example, we are pressing for greater access to archival holdings and to expand the oral history program as a means to develop additional information on outstanding cases. We continue to hope for greater cooperation in these areas in coming months.

CAMBODIA

The United States supports efforts in Cambodia to build democratic institutions, promote human rights, and foster economic development. We are concerned about recent political developments in Cambodia, particularly indications that political intolerance may be growing. We have raised our concerns candidly with the authorities in Phnom Penh. However, Cambodia has come a long, long way in the past few years. It is important to maintain a balanced perspective while we work with the Cambodians on the many obstacles ahead. In pursuit of our goals, the U.S. Government has pledged $33 million in assistance for Cambodia in 1994 and $40 million in 1995. U.S. assistance has had an immediate and visible impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of Cambodians.

The Royal Cambodian Government has repeatedly made clear through word and deed its determination to do everything within its power to facilitate U.S. efforts to achieve the fullest possible accounting of POW/MIA cases in Cambodia. Reporting by Joint Task Force--Full Accounting and by veterans and family groups agree that Cambodia has set the standard for full cooperation in our search efforts. The latest testimony to this record came with the December 4 repatriation from Cambodia of remains recovered from two sites during our most recent field activity. These included the crash site of a helicopter lost on Tang Island during the Mayaguez incident in 1975 from which thirteen U.S. servicemen remain unaccounted for.

CONCLUSION

The task of achieving the fullest possible accounting will be a long and painstaking one. It will stretch out for many more years just as we continue to recover remains of servicemen killed in World War II and the Korean War. The Administration will persevere in this task as long as it takes. Accounting for our POW/MIAs will remain the highest priority of our policy in Southeast Asia until the task is done.

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