Vietnam, US hold first-ever defense talks

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Vietnam and the US held their first-ever defense dialogue on Tuesday (August 17), officials announced at a press briefing following the conference.

Robert Scher, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia, said the dialogue was very candid and open. According to Scher, the substance of the meeting included increased cooperation in areas such as marine security, international peacekeeping and search and rescue.

The talks, held 15 years after the normalization of diplomatic relations, represented "the next significant historic step in our increasingly robust defense relationship which is based on mutual trust, understanding and respect for independence and sovereignty," Scher told reporters.

Previous security talks, which started in 2008, were held at the foreign ministry and State Department level, AFP reported on Tuesday.

Vietnam's Deputy Defense Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh reaffirmed the country's commitment to work with the US in dealing with war legacy issues, such as MIA recovery and Agent Orange remediation.

Both officials said that the border dispute in the East Sea was not the focus of the talks but they agreed that this matter must be addressed through peaceful negotiations to maintain stability in the region.

Vinh said Vietnam's increased military ties with the US would not harm others.

"We believe this cooperation brings about benefit to Vietnam and the United States," he told the briefing. "This cooperation does not do harm to the interests of any other country."

The dialogue focused on bilateral issues, including unexploded ordnance and herbicides left over from the Vietnam War as well as servicemen listed as missing in action, the two officials said.

Other areas where they hoped to step up cooperation included humanitarian and disaster-relief operations, and language training.

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is scheduled to attend the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting Plus scheduled to convene in Hanoi this October. The meeting will be attended by defense ministers from member countries. The "plus" refers to the eight ASEAN dialogue partners, which include the US and China that will also attend the conference.

The second US-Vietnam defense dialogue is scheduled to be held in Washington next year.

Last week, a US Navy destroyer became the latest US warship to dock in Vietnam since the war ended in 1975.

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