Top US military officer Martin Dempsey said in Da Nang on Friday that he was impressed by the progress being at a dioxin cleanup project being conducted at a former US airbase.
Dempsey, the first US chairman of the joint chiefs of staff to visit Vietnam since the war, said the project represents an important milestone in bilateral relations.
The US Department of Defense will continue to support the initiative, he said.
The US$84-million project, funded by US Agency for International Development (USAID), aims to eliminate the extensive dioxin contamination at the former airbase.
The former airbase served as a primary staging site for the US' indiscriminate use of toxic chemical defoliants throughout the war.
The first phase of the project, which started in August, 2012, involves heating 45,000 cubic meters of dioxin-contaminated excavated soil in a temporary treatment structure at 335 degrees Celsius.
The high temperature will destroy the toxin.
The second phase of the project began last February and will treat 35,000 cubic meters of dioxin-contaminated excavated soil.
Dempsey stopped in Da Nang during his four-day official visit to Vietnam.
On Thursday, he met with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Defense Minister Phung Quang Thanh in Hanoi.
Speaking with Dung, Dempsey said his visit to Vietnam represented a commitment to peace and stability in the region, and the US’s desire to become a good partner to Vietnam.
The US General said he agreed that maritime and aviation security, safety and freedom in the Asia-Pacific is under a serious threat due to groundless unilateral claims to sovereignty in the East Sea.
He said this poses a threat not only to Vietnam and other ASEAN countries but also to the interests of other countries, including the US.
Dempsey stressed that countries, including the US, bear a responsibility to maintain peace, and maritime and aviation security in the region.
He also stressed the importance of settling disputes through peaceful measures that comply with international law, particularly the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982.
He said the US wants to cooperate with Vietnam in maritime security and assist the country in protecting its sovereignty at sea.
Dempsey said that the US seeks a roadmap to lifting the ban on lethal arms sales to Vietnam, adding that the number of government officials, congressmen, diplomats and military men who believe in lifting the ban is growing.
For his part, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said he supports the continuous implementation of five key goals: dioxin cleanup, UXO clearance, English-language training for Vietnamese military officers, supporting Vietnam’s participation in UN peacekeeping missions, and lifting the ban on weapons sales to Vietnam.
Dempsey’s trip to Vietnam came at a time when Hanoi is locked in territorial disputes with China.
Though China withdrew an illegally placed mobile oil rig from Vietnamese waters in mid-July, relations between China and Vietnam about the former’s long-term strategy in the East Sea remain strained.
Dempsey will visit points of interest in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City on Saturday as he wraps up his visit to Vietnam.