U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld travels to Indonesia Tuesday for talks on re-establishing contacts with the country's military. Such military-to-military exchanges are emerging as a major theme of the secretary's visit to Southeast Asia. During a stop in Hanoi Monday, Rumsfeld reached agreement with Vietnamese officials to expand military contacts, further pushing the conflict of the 1960s and 70s into the past.
Officials say the expansion of U.S.-Vietnamese military contacts will begin slowly, with a small number of Vietnamese officers coming to a U.S. military base in Texas to study English. Officials say that will be followed by medical training for Vietnamese soldiers, help on removing land mines, and increased cooperation in the effort to find American and Vietnamese troops missing from the war. Officials say a U.S. navy ship will also visit Vietnam this summer, the fourth such visit in the last four years.
Secretary Rumsfeld told reporters the moves follow an agreement reached by the U.S. and Vietnamese leaders.
"In the meetings today [Monday] with the minister of defense, we discussed our mutual desire and their agreement that we should increase the levels of exchanges at all levels of the military, and in various ways, to further strengthen the military-to-military relationship," said Rumsfeld.
Secretary Rumsfeld said no one should be surprised that the United States wants to develop good relations with Vietnam. But he said the United States has no plans to seek access to Vietnamese military facilities. Analysts say both countries want to improve military cooperation in part to balance China's military buildup, which U.S. officials say is changing the military balance in the region.
This was only the second visit to Vietnam by a U.S. defense secretary since the war ended 31 years ago. Diplomatic relations were normalized 11 years ago. It was also Rumsfeld's third visit to Vietnam. He went once as a member of congress and again as a private citizen. He said he was impressed by the country's economic progress since his last visit in 1995. President Bush is scheduled to visit Vietnam in November to attend the annual Asia-Pacific Cooperation summit.
The secretary's visit to Indonesia, starting Tuesday, will also focus on expanding military relations. He noted that the United States had a good military relationship with Indonesia until the congress banned most types of military contacts several years ago to protest the government's human rights record, particularly in East Timor. That policy was reversed in a series of steps by the congress and the Bush administration last year.
"We believe that it is in the interests of the United States, and in the mutual interest of our two countries to re-establish a relationship, a military-to-military relationship, between our countries," he noted. "And so we are in that early stages of doing that."
Speaking on the eve of his departure for Indonesia, Rumsfeld said the country's military is the institution with perhaps the greatest reach across that vast country, and is an important part of the government. He called Indonesia a 'very important country' and praised its government for helping fight terrorism.
The U.S. military sent aid to Indonesia last month, following the strong earthquake, and also last year after the tsunami. In addition, the huge U.S. navy hospital ship Mercy is scheduled to make a good will visit to the country in the coming weeks, its second visit in two years.