(photo credit: Associated Press)
Vietnamese military leaders, in a meeting with US Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said Monday they would try to do more to help the US recover the remains of Americans missing in action in the Vietnam War.
According to a senior defense official in the meetings, the United States is asking for greater access to Vietnamese archives as well as information about MIAs lost in Laos and Cambodia. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private.
The official said Rumsfeld raised the issue and said that MIA recovery is a national priority of the US and "he said that we appreciated what they have done but we have some things we'd like them to do more of."
Currently there are 1,805 American troops unaccounted for from the war, including 1,376 in Vietnam, according to Marine Maj. Jay Rutter, deputy commander of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, which heads the recovery efforts here.
During the early moments of Rumsfeld's meeting with the military leaders, the US secretary said Hanoi has changed a lot since he was last here in 1995 as a private citizen.
"I hasten to congratulate you and the people of Vietnam for the amazing economic achievements in the last 11 years," Rumsfeld told Vietnamese defense minister Gen. Pham Van Tra. Rumsfeld said he took a walk around Hanoi and could "feel the energy, the vibrancy of the city ...There's a significant change in just that short period of time."
Rumsfeld also toured the historic Temple of Literature, a 1,000 year-old-facility that was initially a Buddhist temple and later served as a university, and visited the military's POW/MIA office.
On Sunday, Rumsfeld said the United States wants to expand its military relationship with Vietnam, but has no plans to seek access to military facilities in this former enemy nation.
Rumsfeld talked only generally about his goals for the US military relationship with a country that has come to symbolize one of the military's most divisive and politically explosive wars.
"I don't have a wish list and I don't have a set of things we're trying to achieve," he said en route to Hanoi. "What we want to see is a relationship between our country and Vietnam evolve in a way that is comfortable to them and comfortable to us. And it has been doing that over recent years and I suspect it will continue on that path."
The trip to Vietnam is Rumsfeld's first as defense secretary, and it comes more than 30 years after the end of the Vietnam War. He previously visited the country twice in the late 1960s as a member of Congress, then returned as a private citizen about a decade ago.