HANOI, Vietnam — Vietnam called on the U.S. to lift a ban on lethal weapons sales to the country so it could modernize and overhaul its dated military.
Appearing a press conference with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Vietnamese Defense Minister Gen. Phuong Quang Thanh said the removal of the ban would benefit both Washington and Hanoi.
“This would also help to fully mobilize the relationship between the two countries,” Quang Thanh said June 4 at K2000, Vietnam’s military headquarters. “Once the lethal weapons restrictions are lifted, Vietnam has the demand to buy some [items] from the United States, firstly to repair, to overhaul, the weapons that are left from the war.
“After that depends on the financial capacity and demands of our military,” he said. “We will choose to buy … certain kinds of weapons for the process of modernization of our military.”
The Pentagon sees Vietnam as a key partner in the Asia-Pacific region. Panetta is in the middle of a two-day visit to the country, which included a stop a Cam Ranh Bay, a major U.S. hub during the Vietnam War.
“The purpose of my trip is to do whatever we can to strengthen the defense relationship between the United States and Vietnam,” Panetta said at the press conference.
A new U.S. military strategy, released earlier this year, calls for a greater focus on the Asia-Pacific region.
“[O]ne of the keys to that strategy is to stress the Asia-Pacific region, but more importantly to stress the importance of developing the capabilities of our Asian partners, such as Vietnam,” Panetta said.
The U.S. had productive meetings in Vietnam. The two countries exchanged artifacts recovered during the Vietnam War. Vietnam also granted the U.S. access the three sites that might contain the remains of military personnel missing since the war.
The two countries normalized relations 17 years ago, and last year signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate on nonlethal defense exchanges, such as search and rescue, maritime security, providing humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping operations.
Panetta said the U.S. would like to “take this relationship to a new level” in those areas.
“We look forward to providing additional assistance, and obviously that additional assistance, in part, depends on the progress that is being made on human rights and on other reforms,” Panetta said when asked if human rights and freedom of expression issues were preventing even greater cooperation between the two countries. “But we are very confident that steps we are taking will, in fact, provide a stronger relationship and a stronger partnership between the United States and Vietnam in the future,” he said.
Since 2003, more than 20 U.S. ships have stopped in Vietnamese ports, including Cam Ranh Bay, where the dry cargo ship Byrd is currently anchored. Vietnamese contractors are performing some work on the ship while it is there.
Quang Thanh said the Vietnamese government welcomed the logistics support work in its commercial ports and said the stops could help create jobs.
Vietnam would also like to expand its defense cooperation with countries beyond the U.S., Quang Thanh said.
“Vietnam would like to have fine relations with neighboring countries, with regional countries and with the major powers of the world,” he said. “And especially for the United States and China, we look forward to having a stable and long-standing relations and cooperation for peace and stability.”