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Wednesday, 15 March, 2000, 05:07 GMT
Cohen winds up Vietnam visit
Mr Cohen and President Tran Duc Luong
Tea with friends: Cohen and President Tran Duc Luong
By Simon Ingram in Hanoi

The American Defence Secretary, William Cohen, has been meeting military and civilian officials in Ho Chi Minh City, on the final day of his visit to Vietnam.

One military officer, Lieutenant-General Phan Trung Kien, who fought in the Vietnam war against the Americans, said Vietnam was happy to put aside the past and look to the future.

But painful memories have hung over this visit.

Regional allies

Even a quarter-of-a-century after the American military's ignominious withdrawal from the Vietnam war, the two countries still find it hard to forget the long years of bloodshed and enmity that once divided them.

But Mr Cohen clearly believes his discussions here have gone a long way towards laying a dark chapter of history to rest.

Following talks with President Tran Duc Luong and other senior officials, he says he can envisage a time when the US will have the same warm relationship with Vietnam that it already enjoys with regional allies like Japan and Thailand.

Slowly does it

The process will be a cautious one, however, stressing co-operation in non-controversial matters, such as land mine clearance and flood water control.

Fully-fledged military ties will have to wait, probably for a long time.

One reason is that the Vietnamese will not want to upset their powerful neighbour to the north, China.

It is notable, for example, that the state-controlled media here are giving little or no coverage to Mr Cohen's comments to the defence academy in Hanoi yesterday.

Addressing military officials, he urged Vietnam and its Asean partners to put pressure on China and encourage Beijing towards moderation in its foreign policy.

For the Americans, too, there is a reticence stemming from their continue preoccupation with the issue of US servicemen still missing in action.

In this respect, Mr Cohen's visit to an MIA recovery site near the capital on Monday was not only symbolic but a reflection of an enduring policy commitment.

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See also:

14 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
US: China crucial to peace
13 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Cohen seeks details of war dead
14 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
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14 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
China warns Taiwan over elections
06 Sep 99 | Asia-Pacific
Albright talks trade in Vietnam
16 Aug 99 | Asia-Pacific
US consulate opens in Vietnam
28 Aug 98 | Asia-Pacific
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