08.03.21

Remarks On US Institute Of Peace - Vietnam Wartime Accounting Initiative

Thank you Lise, and thanks to the United States Institute of Peace for hosting this event.  I am very grateful for the strong interest USIP has shown in the work the United States and Vietnam are doing to address some of the most difficult legacies of the war.

I also want to welcome our counterparts from Vietnam’s Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including my good friend Ambassador Ha Kim Ngoc as well as officials from our Department of Defense, Department of State, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

I want to begin by expressing my condolences to our friends in Vietnam, where the number of COVID cases has dramatically increased in the past few weeks.  The United States has provided some vaccines to Vietnam, but we know it is not enough.  We are all in this together, because we know that as long as the virus is spreading anywhere it is a threat to people everywhere.

Just five days ago in Hanoi, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin inaugurated the newest chapter in our war legacy cooperation with Vietnam.  I want to express my appreciation to him, because it illustrates very strongly the importance this has for the United States military and for our country.

Over the past thirty years, the United States has supported programs to help people in Vietnam who suffer from war-related disabilities; to locate and destroy unexploded munitions and bombs; and to clean up areas contaminated with dioxin at former U.S. military bases at Da Nang and Bien Hoa. 

In doing so, we have worked closely with our Vietnamese partners, who we have come to know, to trust, and to respect. 

I think especially of my friend Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh who has been an indispensable partner in this.  I very much look forward to continuing this work with his successor, Senior Lieutenant General Hoang Xuan Chien.

For more than 40 years, the Government of Vietnam has helped locate hundreds of American soldiers who were missing in action from the war.  They did so even during the years that the United States maintained an economic embargo against Vietnam. 

That support has not only provided closure for many American families who lost fathers, sons, and brothers.  It also contributed greatly to building trust and improving relations between our two countries. 

We are now taking a first step to reciprocate for those many years of cooperation on American MIAs. 

The program inaugurated by Secretary Austin and Vietnam’s Minister of Defense General Phan Van Giang, is the first time the United States has embarked on an official, multi-year effort, jointly with the Government of Vietnam, to help locate and identify some of Vietnam’s wartime MIAs, who are estimated to number in the hundreds of thousands.  And there are at least that many Vietnamese civilians whose fate remains unknown. 

It would be difficult to overstate the significance of the fact that the Department of Defense is the lead United States Government agency in this effort, in cooperation with USAID.  It illustrates how far relations between our two countries have progressed. 

We know that many families may never recover the remains of their loved ones.  But we are going to do what we can to provide whatever archival information and technical expertise we have, to enable the Government of Vietnam to carry out this work. 

I hope that those who are watching and listening today will feel – as I do – that by doing this, long after a war that was such a catastrophe for both our countries, we are setting an example for other former enemies. 

They can learn from what we are doing today – that it is possible to build a better future together, by jointly confronting and reconciling with the past. 

This latest chapter of our war legacy cooperation – searching for the Vietnamese who are still missing – may be the most difficult, and it may also be the most meaningful.  I am proud to be part of it, and I want to thank each of you – in our government, in Hanoi, and at USIP.  

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