HANOI (AP) — Former foes Vietnam and the United States held their first-ever defense talks on Tuesday, which a senior U.S. official called extremely productive and successful.
"I was struck by the open and frank discussions that we were able to have, even though this is the first time that this dialogue was held," Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Robert Scher told a joint news conference with Vietnamese Vice Defense Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh.
The talks came as the two countries celebrate the 15th anniversary of their normalization of relations after being enemies in the Vietnam War. Last week, an American warship, the USS John S. McCain, docked in Vietnam, and the two navies conducted training exercises — a sign of growing military ties.
"This dialogue . . . represents the next significant, historic step in our increasingly robust defense relationship, which is based on mutual trust, understanding and respect for independence and sovereignty," Mr. Scher said.
He said the two sides talked about how they could better cooperate in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, search and rescue, international peacekeeping and maritime security.
"I continued to be struck by the commonality of approach that our two countries share and the amount of cooperation that we have been able to achieve in a very short amount of time," Mr. Scher said.
China has been uneasy with recent U.S. moves in the region, including military exercises with South Korea and the warming military relationship with Vietnam.
Mr. Vinh, however, said Vietnam's increased military ties with the United States 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."
Vietnam views U.S. influence in the region as a counterweight to China, which claims disputed islands in the South China Sea. Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines also have staked claims on all or some of the territory, which straddles vital shipping lanes and important fishing grounds and is believed rich in oil and natural gas reserves.