- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 11, 2003

HONOLULU — The first U.S. Navy vessel to dock in Vietnam in almost 30 years is due to arrive there on a landmark port call in November, according to a military source and a former U.S. ambassador.

The military contact is the first since the United States pulled out of Vietnam in 1975, withdrawing from a war that cost the United States more than 58,000 lives and left an estimated 1.3 million to 3 million North and South Vietnamese dead. There are an estimated 1,200 American POW/MIAs still unaccounted for.

A military official said Friday the ship would dock for five days in what was largely a symbolic gesture reflecting the deepening bilateral relationship between the United States and the communist republic.

A spokesman for the Navy’s Pacific Command declined to comment, citing security reasons.

Bilateral ties between the United States and Vietnam have been improving slowly since the former foes resumed diplomatic relations in 1995. A bilateral trade agreement was signed in 2000, and a deal to resume commercial flights between the two countries was signed on Thursday.

“The military-to-military aspect is in a developmental stage,” said former Ambassador Charles B. Salmon Jr., currently a foreign policy adviser at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, a Pentagon-funded think tank.

Vietnamese Defense Minister Pham Van Tra is due to visit the United States later this year, Mr. Salmon and the military source both said. It will be the first visit by a Vietnamese defense minister since the end of the Vietnam War. Mr. Tra’s visit takes place after Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Dy Nien’s recent trip to the United States.

Mr. Salmon said that despite the growing relationship the issues of POW/MIAs and human rights violations in Vietnam were still of significant concern for many Americans.

The communist government, which tightly controls religion, has clashed and arrested dissident Buddhist monks and refused to recognize Pope John Paul II’s appointment of Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man as Ho Chi Minh City’s new cardinal.

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