Blair Discusses Vietnam's Anti-terrorism Support
Blair's remarks to the press Feb. 2 in Hanoi
States and Vietnam are exploring further opportunities for Vietnamese
participation in international anti-terrorism efforts, according to Admiral
Dennis C. Blair, the commander-in-chief of U.S. forces in the Pacific
At a media
roundtable in Hanoi February 2, Blair said he has discussed with Vietnam's
top officials "the possibilities for more participation by Vietnam
in ... regional military activities." He added that "we talked
a good deal about our common cause against terrorism."
that Vietnam supported the anti-terrorism coalition that is in operation
now, both through condemnation of the September 11th bombings and support
for U.S. actions.
was quite clear from my meetings that the Vietnamese leadership shares
our commitment against terrorism and to eliminate international terrorism
and the threat it poses to our citizens," he said.
noted that Vietnam, in response to U.S. requests, has assisted in checking
on the financial dealings that support terrorism and granted weather-diverted
overflight rights to some U.S. aircraft in the region.
discussions touched in general terms about the future of Cam Ranh Bay,
which was previously leased by Russia. The United States is exploring
the possibility for ship visits, he said.
been invited to observe in May this year Cobra Gold, the premier military
regional exercise for peacekeeping operations, Blair said. "I saw
some good strong interest by the Vietnamese in observing that exercise
which is the first step really to greater involvement in it," he
is the CINCPAC transcript of the event:
Adm. Dennis C. Blair Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Command
Media Roundtable Hanoi, Vietnam February 2, 2002
Thank you very much, and thank you Mr. Ambassador for being here as well.
This is my first visit to Vietnam in the three years that I've been Commander
in Chief of the Pacific Command. Yesterday I spent in meetings with a
full range of Vietnamese leaders from the Deputy Prime Minister, the Foreign
Minister, the Minister of Defense, and then with some of my military counterparts,
the Chief of General Staff and his Deputy.
today I will go to one of our recovery sites where a Joint Task Force
Full Accounting team is at work. I leave the country later today.
here in Vietnam were very productive and informative from my point of
view. I was told by virtually everyone I talked to that the passage of
the Bilateral Trade Agreement recently does mark a new chapter in U.S./Vietnamese
relations, and that the military phase of our relationship also has a
about the possibilities for more participation by Vietnam in the regional
military activities which many countries in the region are participating
in, and in particular we talked a good deal about our common cause against
terrorism which has been very much in the forefront for us in the U.S.
given support to the terrorist coalition that is in operation now, both
through condemnation of the September 11th bombings and support for U.S.
actions and some practical forms of assistance such as checking on the
financial dealings that support terrorism that we have requested, and
response to some requests for weather-diverted overflight rights of some
of our aircraft which have been flowing through this region. It was quite
clear from my meetings that the Vietnamese leadership shares our commitment
against terrorism and to eliminate international terrorism and the threat
it poses to our citizens.
Just to put
the entire trip in context, this is my third stop. I was in Singapore
and Malaysia before this stop, and I go on to Japan and Korea for the
rest of the trip.
let me stop and take any questions that you may have.
If it's proven that the [New] People's Army in the Philippines was responsible
for firing on this U.S. aircraft, is the American government ready to
expand its cooperation with Manila against terrorism to include the NPA
as well as the Abu Sayyaf?
The focus of our effort in the Philippines is against the Abu Sayyaf Group.
That has historical links and some contemporary links with al Qaida. It
has U.S. hostages in its custody now, and has killed one in the past and
held another one. It's been the center of the cross-hairs now for our
cooperation with the Philippines.
Is there any information available as to who was responsible for firing
on this aircraft in the Northern Philippines, which obviously wasn't the
Abu Sayyaf because they aren't active there?
I'm not going to go into that incident in any detail.
During the meeting between you and Vietnamese officers, did you discuss
the situation at Cam Ranh Bay? How did you raise the possibility of U.S.
naval ships stopping by Cam Ranh in the future?
We did discuss Cam Ranh Bay in several of the meetings. The United States
is very interested in many different arrangements here in this part of
the world as far as places our forces can visit, places our forces can
get various kinds of support, and that's something that's important to
us in this entire region of the world.
of Cam Ranh Bay is clearly changing now with the end of the Russian lease,
but particular activities or arrangements involving the United States
are something for the future.
You specify arrangements --
Our discussions were in pretty general terms at this time. More specifics
would have to follow in the future.
is there anything else on that one?
Just to note that Vietnam has taken a, as I think everyone here knows,
a position that its ports are open for naval ship visits on a multilateral
basis. Many countries have visited the ports, have brought their naval
ships to visit ports of Haiphong and Saigon port, and Vietnam will have
to decide whether it's going to open Cam Ranh Bay for naval ship visits,
but we would expect if it is open for naval ship visits that it would
be on the same basis as the two ports that are currently open.
was that Vietnam still is thinking about how it's going to develop Cam
Ranh Bay. It's still the very early stages in that process.
Russia expressed that they will withdraw their troops this month. On U.S.
side how do you see that situation now? And how many Russian troops are
there in Cam Ranh Bay? Thank you.
I'd say that's something for the Russians and the Vietnamese to answer,
not for me to answer.
Do you suspect or do you know if Vietnam will participate in Cobra Gold
next time or any other joint military operation?
I talked about the importance of the Cobra Gold exercise as the premier
regional exercise for countries getting together to practice peacekeeping
operations, non-combatant evacuation operations, humanitarian operations,
the missions of the future. And Vietnam has been invited in an observer
status and I saw some good strong interest by the Vietnamese in observing
that exercise which is the first step really to greater involvement in
So participation, not as observers, but active participation in two years?
That would be down the road. I don't know, it really depends on what the
Vietnamese observed at the exercise that they thought would be in their
interest. But I think, and I made it quite clear to the Vietnamese that
I talked to that I think participation in that exercise is good for them
as for all countries in the region so that we can become more skilled
at working together on these instances.
It's so important
when military forces come together to be effective quickly in the early
stages when the disaster is at its worst or when you need to be effective.
The way to do this is really to practice, so I think it's important that
we exercise together as well as observe.
So you think they'll observe next time?
Yes, I think they will observe next time, and I hope in time they will
When is the next Cobra Gold?
The next Cobra Gold is in May of this year.
David Thurber with Associated Press.
that you see some opportunities for expanded military relations between
the U.S. and Vietnam. What are some of the other ways that you see military
cooperation in the future?
The activities that I primarily talked about with my Vietnamese hosts
were these multilateral regional activities which many countries are playing
a role in. It's a range from seminars and conferences where experts get
together through field exercises such as Cobra Gold that we described.
involved in some of them to a certain extent through ASEAN and through
its bilateral and multilateral relationships, and I really encourage working
on in this direction so that Vietnam would be able to contribute to these
sorts of activities commensurate with its stature and capability in the
What about on a bilateral basis?
On a bilateral basis I think we are working our way after the free trade
agreement into a more, into a fuller military relationship. Right now
it's really, I would characterize it as based on the missions of the past,
things like Joint Task Force Full Accounting, from our point of view;
the scientific research on Agent Orange; assistance on demining. Most
of these bilateral relationships really are looking backwards and based
on the war that we fought here that ended 25 years ago. I think it's time
to transition and look more to the missions of the future.
Michael Manzis with the German Press Agency. That said, can you talk about
the status of the MIA program, especially in light of the accident last
Yes. I talked with Vietnamese counterparts about that. The accident itself,
as you know, was one that killed Americans and Vietnamese. It was investigated
by the Vietnamese. I sent an investigating team over from my headquarters
as well, and the conclusion was that it was a pilot error based on deteriorating
weather conditions. It was a tragic event that set us all back.
satisfied ourselves that we understood what had happened, we've now resumed
the operations and we are just going to be mindful, even more mindful
in the future about helicopter safety which is something that you always
worry about, but which will be even more of a focus of concern.
But we intend
to continue with both the investigative work and the recovery work, and
we're going to continue to press until the remaining approximately 2,000
Americans that we haven't accounted for are as fully accounted for as
we possibly can.
Some of the official media here have pointed to the presence in the United
States of leaders of Vietnamese opposition groups who they accuse of organizing
armed attacks against Vietnam. Those papers have accused the United States
of being hypocritical in its fight against terrorism because of the presence
of those people. Were those concerns raised in your talks about the fight
against terror with Vietnamese officials?
Vietnamese officials did raise in our meetings the activities of overseas
Vietnamese and requested our assistance in dealing with attacks on their
own targets. So that was raised with me.
As you know,
that particular area is not in my area of responsibility, but the Vietnamese
did raise their concerns.
To go back to the MIA question, has there been a rethink in the Administration
about maybe winding down a bit or backing off a bit saying rest in peace,
it's an unachievable goal?
I've talked with Mr. Jennings who is the new director of the office in
Washington. The commitment to press on all possible leads that we have
remains the same. In fact we have a sense of urgency because of course
the human memories which are so important in this work are becoming older,
and we have to press on while people can still, until we can find everybody
we can talk to who has some piece of evidence that can help direct us
to the right spot. So we're pressing on.
When President Clinton was here there was talk about the U.S. cooperating
with Vietnam in its search for its own MIAs. Is there anything going on
in that area at this time?
I talked with some Vietnamese military officers about that. The Vietnam
armed forces have a department whose job it is to have the fullest accounting
for their own some 300,000 missing in action.
We, the United
States, have provided documents which we think are relevant to that cause
and those documents are being worked.
I don't know,
you all probably understand how this works, but basically you have to
do a lot of data research and investigation and talking with people before
you can really pick out a site and say yes, this area is an area we ought
So the front-end
work of going through the records, talking to people is really the hard
part and we've delivered a large number of documents that we think are
helpful, but until the Vietnamese researchers go through and look at them
and begin to narrow things down, they're not going to make progress, just
as we don't, until we do an awful lot of academic work ahead of time.
Is that the end of the U.S. cooperation?
No. We will cooperate with their efforts just as we expect them to cooperate
with ours and as they are cooperating with ours.
Is there anything concrete planned in that area?
In preparation for this visit I wasn't given any specific outstanding
requests from our own side, and I wasn't given any specific requests on
our side, so I would tell you that it's, the ongoing processes of communication
seem to be working.
Some of the former enemies of communist Vietnam including the Australians
have signed formal defense pacts with Hanoi. How far off is a formal defense
pact between Hanoi and Washington?
Gee, a formal defense pact. Mr. Ambassador, you're the pact-signer. I
think we've got a lot of work to do.
As the Admiral said, our military-to-military relationship is still just
beginning. I think any thought of a more formal relationship is not something
that either side has raised. I think we should focus on developing substance
before we worry too much about form.
Can we go back to Cam Ranh Bay? You had several meetings. How are these
meetings characterized as to the situation in Cam Ranh Bay, the future
of Cam Ranh Bay. What was the explanation about particularly our future?
I did not conduct detailed negotiations about the future of Cam Ranh Bay.
We talked about Cam Ranh Bay in general terms.
interlocutors explained that the long term arrangement with Russia had
lapsed and that they were thinking through what the future of Cam Ranh
Bay would be. I expressed that as our military relationship developed
with the Vietnamese we are looking for places for our ships to visit,
we are looking for various arrangements in this region to support our
objective, so it was a good initial discussion. It will proceed in the
future as the Vietnamese make their plans for Cam Ranh Bay, both military
and commercial, and as we make our plans for the region. So there will
be many more talks in the future, and our discussion was in general terms.
Seriously, do you consider the Spratly's to be some sort of flash point
for regional tension?
I think that the -- It's never good when you have more than one country
claiming the same piece of real estate. In the South China Sea in general
we have six countries claiming some of the same pieces of real estate.
say a couple of years ago, I think that China was adopting a pretty aggressive
approach -- fortifying some islands, being very bilateral in their approach
to different countries. But I think over the last say year or year and
a half the countries of the region seem to have realized that the multilateral
approach is better, that the negotiations on the code of conduct offer
a way to make progress to the benefit of all of its citizens.
I look at
other places in the region where the diplomatic solution seemed to have
brought benefits. Thailand and Malaysia have been able to figure out how
to divvy up gas drilling rights further over in the Gulf of Thailand.
That seems to be working.
struck by the fact that no nation can benefit from the South China Sea
economically until the countries of the regions come up with a regime
that will give business confidence to develop the oil and gas. And certainly
the fish don't seem to follow the rules. They go around the whole region.
And if every country just fishes to the maximum extent where it can it's
going to benefit nobody.
So I detect
a realization in the region that the way forward here is to set a code
of conduct, to come to commercial agreements so that all can benefit,
and that using military force to occupy islands and to intimidate others
is not really the way forward. So I'm encouraged by what I see.
But given the fact that they haven't even been able to reach a code of
conduct after years of talking about it, let alone boundaries, does that
cause the Spratly's to be a big blip on your radar?
I think because the trends which seem to me towards counting military
outposts have now shifted to the details of working out the code of conduct,
I count that as positive and it makes me think that -- It makes the particular
military pieces of it less of a concern on my radar screen.
You've made several references to the desire to have access to ports in
the region. Given the operations in the Southern Philippines and so on,
is there a desire to have more permanent facilities in Southeast Asia
ten years after the withdrawal from the Philippines?
No. We have no desire to have more permanent bases in the region. What
we seek is a flexible set of arrangements so that we can cooperate with
countries in the region and get the job done when the necessity is there.
But we do not look to build large permanent bases in the region.
Will Cobra Gold have a counter-terrorism element? How long will the U.S.
be involved in the Philippines?
On Cobra Gold starting this May, we and the Thais who are the hosts of
the exercise have designed a counterterrorism section of the exercise
in order to build the capability of the nations involved against terrorism
and the specifics of that part of the exercise will range everything from
intelligence, intelligence sharing through coordination of special forces
through dealing with consequences of a terrorist act which might cause
damage and destruction and which the armed forces would be part of the
reaction capability. So there will be a combating terrorism part of the
Cobra Gold exercise.
for the Philippines in their war against the Abu Sayyaf Group will occur
in stages. Right now we are deploying advisors, we are building intelligence
capability, we are in the preliminary stages. The first phase of the exercise
will last six months and then we will evaluate where we are and how we
This is a
new type of activity for all of us so it's impossible to set a nice, neat
time table for the operation, but I would anticipate that our involvement
here will be in months, not in years in the Philippines. Our objective
is to assist and support the Philippines, particularly the armed forces
of the Philippines, and then to leave and leave them to complete the campaign.
clear that the responsibilities, the authority, the operation lies with
the Republic of the Philippines and with their armed forces. These are
not U.S. operations, this is not a U.S. military endeavor. This is support
to the armed forces of the Philippines to build this capacity against
this Abu Sayyaf Group which threatens them and many others in the world.
To follow up on that, I've been puzzled by exactly what the United States
can contribute to the situation there, because the Philippines has been
fighting Abu Sayyaf and other groups for decades and has a lot of experience
in doing so, and I also recall that it was in the Philippines that U.S.
special forces were trained in jungle warfare for Vietnam. So if anything,
it seems like they might have more experience than the United States.
So what exactly do we have to contribute there?
I think what we will have is a combination of the American technical,
strength on the technical side of warfare and also the experience that
we have gained in other parts of the world in unconventional operations.
Melded with there Philippine local knowledge.
We had an
assessment team in Zamboango in November of last year which had very open
discussions with the Philippine forces involved in the war. The findings
that were the Philippines knew a great deal about what was going on. They
had an approach to it, but there were some things they needed in terms
of specialized training, in terms of technical capability which would
assist their fight. So I think it will be a good combination of strengths
and we will be successful in eliminating this Abu Sayyaf Group.
part of it which I think is extremely important, and I saw President Arroyo
talking about it from New York on the television this morning, is the
economic assistance in that part of the Philippines. Ambassador Burghardt
served in the Philippines and knows that the Southern Philippines are
really underdeveloped for a bunch of reasons. There needs to be economic
development and that's part of the pledge of the Philippine government
and also the U.S. government through the non-military departments, is
going to be assisting in that in order to raise the standard of living
there and that will help prevent the Abu Sayyaf Group from reestablishing
itself once it's dealt with from a security point of view.
In somewhat more specific terms, what exactly will the U.S. troops leave
for the Philippines when they're gone? How will they benefit --
Let me give you an example.
A year ago
we were asked to train a light reaction infantry company in specialized
field tactics, specifically hostage rescue skills. That company continues
to be one of the more proficient military units that's operating now in
the Philippines. So we find that those units that we work with are the
better units for it, and as they continue they are more effective.
the training that we provide has a residual benefit.
On the equipment
side, our emphasis is going to be more on maintenance and supply skills
than it is on new pieces of equipment. I can tell you as a military officer,
being able to fix your gear is just as important as how much you have
of it. I think the United States can help the armed forces of the Philippines
in that regard, and that will leave more operable equipment for them to
be able to move their people around.
I also think
that the organizational constructs, particularly in organizing intelligence
that we will work out will be important.
So I'd say
those three areas which will be of long term benefit to the Philippines,
and the Philippine officers that we've talked to look at it the same way.
This is very much a cooperative effort.
Please tell me what kind of cooperation is in the future between Vietnam
and the United States.
I think cooperation in the areas that I mentioned -- combating terrorism,
in humanitarian assistance, in international peace operations under the
UN charter, in cooperating against narcotics, in cooperating against international
crime are all areas in which we can work together in the future. And cooperating
against piracy in this area would be another area.
are the sorts of common missions that I think could be the missions of
the future that would involve the United States, the forces of Vietnam
and other countries in the region. China, in particular. I think we would
welcome the PLA involvement in these activities as well.
Admiral, have there been credible threats, terroristic threats against
shipping in the region? Especially in the Straits of Malacca?
We know that terrorist organizations looking at the success of piracy
in the Straits of Malacca have put two and two together and have thought
about attacks on shipping for terrorist purposes similar to those piracy
And have these increased since 9/11?
I don't think I'll talk about the details, but the potential is there
and it's something terrorist groups have thought about.
What is being done to prevent that? Has there been security and escorts
Yes. Not only have the three most important countries who have responsibility
there increased their efforts -- that is Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia
-- but the United States, for example, has had a ship for the last couple
of months in the strait keeping a close eye on the shipping that we think
is important and cooperating with those countries. In fact other countries
in the region are thinking about perhaps joining the effort.
As some of
you may know in the piracy effort, this is separate from terrorism, but
the piracy incidents have led countries like Japan, India, to increase
their attention to the problem, in some cases to offer additional assistance.
It's the same skills to protect a ship against a pirate as it is from
a terrorist and we think that's good.
And about the Philippine approach, when the exercise turns into operation
because of Abu Sayyaf activity, how would you consider the matter, that
U.S. combat is against their constitution?
We've worked out arrangements for the current activities that we will
undertake which are satisfactory to both sides. The Philippine forces
and the Philippine commanders are in charge of the overall operation.
The U.S. soldiers and others are operating as trainers and advisors, and
they will be supporting the Philippine effort. There's no confusion about
how that will work. It's an arrangement which military men the world over
are familiar with, and both sides can get the job done.
You've described a pretty friendly cooperative visit so far. What's the
sticking point or points of contention between Vietnam and the United
States? In your portfolio.
I think we're on a positive direction in military relations between the
United States and Vietnam now. I think it's more a case of the pace and
the specifics of cooperation than it is an overall, any overall conflict.
It's clear from my discussions that the armed forces of Vietnam are internally
focused. Economic development, border issues are their primary concern.
The concerns of the United States are more regionally focused and have
to do with the areas that I mentioned. But there is overlap of interest
and I think we can work gradually to do things that are in the interest
of both countries. I see that as the best way for us to develop.
On a personal basis, what were you most looking forward to on at least
this leg of the trip? I suspect you might have studied or followed General
Giap's tactics in the past. I know he's on your schedule.
Right. He is, to any military officer, he's one of the officers who played
a strong and decisive role in this region. So it was a great interest
of mine to talk to him, and knowing the role that he's played in military
history in this part of the world.
On a personal
basis, I did not fight in Vietnam. I was on my way on a ship to Vietnam
when the war ended for us. This was 1972. So I, unlike all of my predecessors,
have not fought here. So I was coming with a great deal of interest and
not many preconceptions.
I have seen
a country in real transition here, so I'm going back with a much better
idea of how we can work together in the future.
In your discussions did the Vietnamese provide any concrete commitments
to this war on terrorism that you could share with us?
I think the best way to characterize the commitment was that specific
actions based on evidence which the United States would like Vietnam to
take will receive a positive reception. That's the history we've had,
both in terms of checking on names and financial inquiries that we asked
to be run. That was the case in the one request for overflight permission
that I mentioned. The permission was for a specific flight which we needed,
was granted very promptly and it helped us do our job off in the North
Arabian Sea area. And what I heard in the meetings that those sorts of
requests by the United States to stamp out terrorism will receive a favorable
reception from the Vietnamese.
they mentioned that they are committed to ensuring that Americans are
safe in Vietnam from terrorism -- both embassy personnel and businessmen
and private citizens. They emphasized that the evaluation, I guess there
are no travel advisories in effect related to terrorism in Vietnam. No
place is completely safe in the world now from terrorism, but Vietnam
is a safe place for Americans to be stationed for duty, to travel on business,
and to visit. And clearly the Vietnamese intend to keep it that way.
I'd just add to that, the Vietnamese government has in fact been very
cooperative in working with the American embassy on security measures
for our installations here and in Ho Chi Minh City, and continues to be
so. And very open to any requests that we might have. That was repeated
during the Admiral's visit.
On your talks here, what kind of a sense do you have about the ability
and the willingness of the military of both Vietnam and the United States
to put the past war behind and look to the future?
I think that on the U.S. side there is -- The only part of the past that
we intend to carry into the future is the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting,
the continued pressed effort to ensure that we have the fullest possible
accounting for the still 2,000 missing people that we have. With the exception
of that one issue, all the people that I know in uniform are interested
in looking to the future and not doing anything about the past except
to learn the lessons and move forward.
On the Vietnamese
side, I'm certainly not an expert based on only 24 ours in the country,
but I sensed a general willingness to move forward. Certainly not any
sort of personal animosity towards Americans in uniform, but also on the
Vietnamese side a feeling that there were things from the war that still
had to be physically repaired. War damage such as mines and other unexploded
ordnance as well as accounting for their own missing.
So I think,
I'd say that would be my best characterization.
I think we
have time for one more question before I have to head out.
One or less,
whichever comes first. (Laughter)
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