THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
(Hanoi, Socialist Republic of Vietnam)
For Immediate Release November 17, 2000
PRESS BRIEFING BY
NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR SANDY BERGER
Hilton Hanoi Opera Hotel
Hanoi, Socialist Republic of Vietnam
5:25 P.M. (L)
MR. CROWLEY: Welcome to Hanoi, an historic day for the President and
the American delegation. Our briefer joined the President earlier this
afternoon the tour the Temple of Literature, and I think he found
inspiration in the fact that he walked through the Gate of Great Synthesis
and passed the Well of Heavenly Clarity. Great preparation to read-out the
first day of the President's visit to Hanoi. And we give you the National
Security Advisor, Samuel R. Berger.
MR. BERGER: Mr. Crowley will soon be joining the speechwriting staff
at the White House, the NSC. This truly has been, I think, an
extraordinary day, as we've witnessed the warm welcome of the Vietnamese
people for the President and for the United States on the first visit of an
American President to a united Vietnam, to Hanoi -- to Vietnam at all -- in
Today culminates an effort that has been underway for eight years to
rebuild our relationship with Vietnam, to normalize our relationship, but
to do so in a way that is true to our values and with total fidelity to
those who served here, and particularly to the families of those who have
people in Vietnam who are unaccounted for and missing.
Today I think also changes the character of the relationship going
forward. I believe that after today, after this trip, another dimension of
that relationship will be possible.
Let me briefly go through the two meetings that the President had --
one with President Luong, and then with the Prime Minister -- and I'll do
this really as the meeting unfolded. President Luong warmly welcomed the
President and thought his trip was very important to Vietnam. The
President expressed his gratefulness for the reception that we received
since we've arrived here yesterday and said he hoped to use this trip to
build the foundation for further progress.
He thanked President Luong for the cooperation that we have received
in the past several years from the government of Vietnam for the fullest
possible accounting, and provided to President Luong 350,000 pages of
archival material -- I can describe for you later. This is now the second
installment of documents that were provided to the Vietnamese, just as they
have provided us with hundreds of thousands of documents to help locate
300,000 Vietnamese who remain missing.
The President also expressed his gratitude for Vietnam's cooperation
with the immigration program that has provided for the relocation of a very
large number of Vietnamese to the United States.
He talked about the trade agreement which was signed in July. This is
a very important agreement, the bilateral trade agreement, really a
blueprint for our future economic relationship, and represents a decision
by Vietnam, not unlike the decision that China made in entering the WTO, to
proceed in opening its economy to international investment, to trade. The
President indicated that we would be providing Vietnam with $2 million a
year over the next three years to help them implement this treaty. It has
to be ratified, obviously, first by both Vietnam and by the United States
President Luong then proceeded to give a rather detailed report,
briefing on the state of Vietnam today; described it as a developing
country, overcoming a protracted war, and said that the most urgent desire
of the Vietnamese people is for peace, so we can develop our country and
He talked about the Doi-Moi policy the President referenced earlier.
This is basically a policy of openness, economic openness in particular,
that the Vietnamese adopted about 15 years ago. During the preceding 10
years, growth in Vietnam, according to President Luong, has averaged 7.2
percent and foreign trade has grown 20 percent a year.
He talked about the emphasis on social policy -- a million students in
the country -- a million students enrolled in this country; family
planning, birth rate down from 2 percent to 1.5 percent; health care,
poverty level gone from 40 percent to 13 percent; relations with the
outside world. This is a country, as, of course, you all know, that was
quite isolated from the outside world, now not only a member of ASEAN, but
the Chairman this year of ASEAN, part of APEC, and he indicated, prepared
to go further down the road of becoming part of the international
environment, international system.
He talked then about the bilateral relationship and the issues which,
as he described it, would fully develop our normalization. Vietnam has
gone through an unhappy and painful past, he said, and that is why we
appreciate so much your President Clinton's effort to achieve
He spoke about the legacy of war, specifically the accounting for
Vietnamese and American missing; the problem of unexploded ordnance that
continues to be vexing; the issue of Agent Orange, which he spoke about as
an urgent and distressing problem for the victims; and welcomed the
additional cooperation, the scientific cooperation that will take a boost
later this month in Singapore when our researchers and scientists get
together. But he asked for, hoped that the United States would provide
greater assistance going down the road in all of these areas of demining
and the other things I've talked about.
He expressed his gratitude for the aid that we have provided -- I
think about $14 million-$16 million a year it's averaged -- for education,
training, AIDS. He basically concluded by saying that if we can expand our
relations fast enough, that is the best way to address the legacy of war.
The President raised with him his concern about and his belief that
greater freedom for the Vietnamese people, greater human rights for the
Vietnamese people, would be important to Vietnam's development. And later
on, President Luong noted that we may have different definitions or
different meanings for human rights.
President Luong talked about the importance of private sector
investment and development, particularly in areas like information
technology, where they very much would like to see foreign investment,
foreign assistance to help their countries.
The President then, in response to President Luong's briefing, said
first that he hoped our relationship would become more comprehensive over
time, that we would address not only the issues we're addressing now -- MIA
issues, education issues, et cetera -- but that we would also be addressing
things like health and other mutual concerns.
On demining, he said that we would continue to provide assistance. On
joining the WTO, something that President Luong had said they very much
wanted to do, as well as obtaining PNTR, the President said we would be
supportive of a process leading in that direction, but that needed to begin
by implementing the bilateral trade agreement.
And on Agent Orange, the President said there's more we need to do in
this area for our veterans at home in the United States, as well as for
those here, who may be suffering the affects. And one of the things that
we are doing is providing to the Vietnamese a computer system which will
assist them to provide -- a system with information on where Agent Orange
may have been stored or present during the war.
In the later meeting with Prime Minister Khai, a fairly similar
agenda. Prime Minister Khai described today as an important milestone for
Vietnam. He talked about the significant changes in the country and their
plans to try to become an industrial country by the year 2010. He said
that their goals for our bilateral relationship were early ratification of
the trade agreement. He was very, very pleased that we had reached
agreement on a science and technology agreement. He described it as a very
important agreement to Vietnam because it will set the basis for us to work
together across a range of issues. For example it will allow NOAA, our
National Oceans and -- whatever NOAA stands for -- to work with their
disaster relief people more effectively on the flooding problems here in
The President again thanked him as well for the cooperation that
Vietnam has provided on accounting for our missing, and encouraged and
hoped that they would continue to provide that cooperation. This is an
unfinished business; this is part of the old chapter in our relationship
that we cannot close.
He said to the Prime Minister that, "while I recognize the progress
that the people of Vietnam have made in some areas of human rights, I must
encourage you to make greater progress. I honestly believe that the
Vietnamese are great people and that greater openness and greater freedom
will speed your development."
Excuse me, I guess it was Prime Minister Khai who said, well, we may
have -- after talking about all of the things that are happening on the
economic side, said we may have different conceptions on human rights, but
that does not impede our ability to cooperate.
So that basically covers the two meetings. We will meet with Chairman
Phieu tomorrow, as well as visit the Joint Excavation Site, which will be I
think an important, powerful moment.
I'm happy to answer any questions about this or about the speech.
Q Sandy, the 350,000 pages of documents, can you tell us a little
bit about it? Are these incident reports? What do they say? And also I
think the President said there would be another million pages between now
and the end of the year -- do you mean this calendar year, and what will
MR. BERGER: These documents, this is the second tranche of three
tranches of documents that we're providing. Included in the documents
we're providing today, for example, are records from medical units here in
Vietnam that actually treated Vietnamese wounded soldiers who then died.
So you would then have, presumably, the date and location of death. The
Marines will be providing an accounting of all of their information about
where battles took place, how many people were reported to have been killed
on either side of those battles, what the location of those battles were,
which will obviously enable them to have some better information about
site, locating remains. And the other million documents is what DOD
believes will be possible.
This has been an ongoing process. We started this over a year ago.
As I said, the Vietnamese have I think given us 800,000 documents over the
past several years, which have been very important to our recreating the
records. And we have indicated that we would do the same.
Q And roughly any idea on how many missing Vietnamese would be
encompassed in those?
MR. BERGER: They used the figure 300,000 missing. There are 1,400
American servicemen and women who remain unaccounted for in Vietnam. The
figure that President Luong used was 300,000 Vietnamese -- civilians and
soldiers, I took him to mean.
Q Sandy, a question on the speech. I'm sure you went through with
some care how to deal with the discussion of the war period. And the
President in the end said -- referred to that period as one of shared
suffering. But he was very careful not to get into the discussion of
ideology. And it sounds like your talks today were very non-ideological.
What went into the thinking about not talking about why these two countries
went to war or what lessons might emerge, other than the fact that brave
people on both sides fought each other?
MR. BERGER: I think that the national interest now is not served by
rearguing the debates surrounding the war. I think they are served by
remembering, by using, in a sense, an accounting for what happened then as
the bridge to the future, and turning with the Vietnamese toward building a
new period in our relationship.
These are obviously -- these were searing days for America, searing
days for the Vietnamese, but I think that, as Ambassador Peterson has said,
we cannot change the past, we can change the future. And I think the
President feels that it is in the best interests of the country to build
Q Sandy, can you explain why all the discussions of human rights
seem to be couched in terms of its impact on Vietnam's economic success?
Is it your sense it would not be productive to talk about the value of
human rights in and of themselves?
MR. BERGER: Well, I don't know, I don't necessarily agree with that
characterization of it. The President talked about freedom of religion and
freedom of the press, freedom of -- root out corruption. Certainly, in the
meetings he didn't put it in those terms.
I mean, obviously, we believe that -- the President talked about, I
believe in the speech, how young people will have more confidence in their
societies if they have the capacity to help shape those societies and make
the decisions that shape their future. That's not an economic point;
that's a point about how you look at stability versus how you look at
instability. The argument is often made, here and elsewhere, that
stability requires the status quo. I think the argument the President is
making is that in today's world, a greater degree of freedom and personal
control over their destiny actually provides greater stability. So I don't
think the argument was only made in economic terms.
Q Sandy, again on human rights. The President said, let the days
when we talked past each other be gone for good. But, as I gather from the
meetings today, the Vietnamese said they have a different conception of
human rights, quite possibly, than the President does. It sounds to me in
that respect, at least, the two countries are still talking past each
MR. BERGER: Well, this is a country that has made progress, more
progress in the economics sphere than in the political sphere, and we hope
that they would make continuing progress. Their conception of human rights
tends to be more in terms of economic rights, the rights of people to have
an education, the right to not starve, the right to have an economic
But I think the President made clear that there is a larger context --
there's a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that those not only
reflect our values and the values of most countries in the world, but also
are the way in which societies -- those are the principles that societies
need to adhere to today if they're going to be successful. I think that's
the point the President was making.
And they may have -- I would say there was a minimum -- in the
meetings today I was most interested in many ways when we talked about what
they described as the legacy of war, Agent Orange, unexploded ordnance,
those issues, it was not a polemic discussion, by any means. It was, in a
sense, a humanitarian discussion -- we have these very substantial problems
and we need as much help as you can provide for us.
Q Did the President get any sense that they may enlarge or change
their definition over time of what human rights actually includes or
represents to the people of this country?
MR. BERGER: I think the President can use his trip here to maximize
the possibility that that -- I think that message certainly resonates with
younger people in this country. You know, as the President said, 60
percent of this country is under 30 years old. If you've looked out in the
streets, you've seen an awful lot of young faces. And I think that this
generation wants more freedom.
The speech the President gave today was the first speech, as I
understand it, that ever has been broadcast nationally in Vietnam, and will
be re-broadcast later tonight. So that message will be out there and,
hopefully, it will influence the way people think.
Q Sandy, do you mean first broadcast nationally, or the first
speech by a foreigner ever broadcast?
MR. BERGER: Well, we should clarify that, because I asked that
precise follow-up question, anticipating yours. I was told it was the
first speech. Now, before I get -- maybe somebody can check that. It
certainly was the first -- I mean, it goes without saying it was the first
speech an American President in Hanoi. (Laughter.) But I was told it was
the first time -- Ambassador Pete Peterson said it was an historic event.
Maybe, PJ, somebody could check that.
Q Did Vietnam's foreign policy and regional security issues come up
at all in either of the discussions?
MR. BERGER: Not much. There was some discussion of Vietnam's now
participation in ASEAN, its desire to pursue a good relationship with its
neighbors. This, of course, has been a very troubled region over the last
30 or 40 years. The fact that Vietnam now is the chair of ASEAN -- which
at one point it was arrayed against -- I think reflects that change. But
there was not an extensive discussion of it.
Q Was there any -- did the President get any sense of differences
in the senior levels of the Vietnamese government about the value of
MR. BERGER: No -- I'm thinking about the question, but not that I
could detect. I think the message from the President and from the Prime
Minister was quite similar, that they were committed to economic reform;
they wanted to see Vietnam become what they described as an industrialized
country by 2010; that they knew that that meant opening the country; that
they wanted foreign participation. I think that was quite consistent
between the two.
Q Did the President talk about how foreign investment had dropped
off in Vietnam in the last five years or so? And did he talk about
anything the Vietnamese should be doing to --
MR. BERGER: Yes, he did mention that. And he said that, I understand
that some people in Vietnam believe that -- what happened here, as during
the Asian financial crisis, as you know, Vietnam suffered less than some of
the other countries, in part because its economy remains more closed. And
some people thought at the time, believed that actually was a good argument
against globalization, against integration.
And the President indicated that while Vietnam may have suffered less
from the effects of the Asian crisis, that it would also benefit less from
the growth in this region and the growth in Asia unless it opened its
economy more. And I think there seemed to be a recognition of that on the
part of the Vietnamese leaders.
Q The President seemed careful not to offend in his speech,
couching -- and I'm wondering, then, is the relationship delicate in a way
that the wrong word could quickly send it backwards? How strong is it now?
MR. BERGER: You ordinarily don't go to another country to find ways
to be offensive. I thought the President in the speech was very
straightforward on human rights. He talked about freedom of the press,
freedom of religion, fighting corruption. Those are all issues that are
not widely -- that are sensitive here. And I thought he raised them in a
very straightforward way, in a way designed to be effective, which I think
you've seen from this President before, which is, rather than scoring
points, he wants to make change.
Q Did the President get the impression from his discussions that
the Vietnamese government sees the U.S. as having any financial
responsibility for the war in the form of reparations?
MR. BERGER: No, there was no discussion of reparations and no
discussion of kind of some aggregate responsibility.
As I said, when they talked about individual problems, like unexploded
ordnance, like the continued mining problem, like the Agent Orange problem,
they did ask for further assistance from the United States to help solve
those problems. But there was no discussion of reparations or compensation
or anything like that.
Q Was there some discomfort that the bust of Ho Chi Minh was up
there on the stage with the President and images that might --
MR. BERGER: I hardly noticed it. That little statue there?
Q It was there at the welcome, too, wasn't it?
MR. BERGER: You know, when you go to a country, when you meet with
the President of Vietnam, you meet with the President of Vietnam in that
room, as has every American leader who has come before over the past
decade. Ho Chi Minh is obviously an historical figure of great importance
in this country and you don't ask your hosts to change their sense of
history by virtue of the fact that you want a different picture.
Q Was the President surprised by the warmth of his visit, by the
warmth of his reception, given the fact that there was no coverage in the
MR. BERGER: Yes.
Q Did he detect any uneasiness about this from his hosts? I mean,
crowds are normally avoided with paranoia by these kind of regimes.
MR. BERGER: I think we've all been very struck by this reception.
This is, I don't know, maybe the 75th country I've been to with the
President. This is one of the warmest and most spontaneous receptions I
think we received. And, as you pointed out, the state media downplayed the
President's arrival here. It wasn't like this was a generated crowd.
And I think as you looked into the faces of people, they were very
genuinely warm and welcoming and eager to see the President and in very
substantial numbers. I couldn't begin to estimate the crowd. It was very
moving, I think, for the President to see that reaction. The excitement
that particularly the young people of this country have for the United
States I think is quite an extraordinary thing.
Q Do you know how the students were selected to get into the
auditorium? At some point, we understand there was supposed to be a -- the
President was supposed to go out and greet the overflow crowd and work a
rope line afterward?
MR. BERGER: That was the original plan. I don't know the answer to
that question. There was a -- this was going to -- if you were in Beijing,
there was a similar kind of event, which was the overflow crowd was going
to be outside and we were going to go then afterwards and the President was
going to say a few words. I don't know why that changed.
Q Was it the Vietnamese authorities who changed it, though, or was
it our guys that changed it?
MR. BERGER: I don't know the answer to that, but I will get you the
Q What's the state of play on a visit to Korea, North Korea, before
MR. BERGER: We've not made a decision. We will go back to Washington
next week and I think look at this very, very hard in the days ahead when
we get back. I think that we would need to be quite certain that such a
trip would be productive and would advance America's national interests,
but we've not made that decision yet.
Q Does that include being sure of what sort of written agreement
could be reached by the President going?
MR. BERGER: Well, I think it would be having a high level of
confidence that there would be a result from the visit that would lead
towards greater stability on the Korean Peninsula. And I think if we could
-- that is the critical question and we have to evaluate that.
Q Sandy, going back to the opening ceremony this morning, the
President said he found it very moving. Obviously, you can't get inside
his head, but could you tell us what thoughts were going through your mind
as you stood in that presidential palace courtyard and saw the American
flag, listened to the Vietnamese military band playing the National Anthem?
MR. BERGER: Well, it was an extraordinary event. Vietnam is a very
big part of the lives of America and particularly Americans over a certain
age. A lot of history and a lot of strong memories. I think that, to me,
I felt very satisfied as I stood there that I think we've done this right.
We set out eight years ago -- we could have done this in a month or a year,
but we said at the very beginning that we would do this in a way that was
true to the families and true to the missing, and that the accounting for
the past would be the bridge to the future. And I felt very pleased that
END 5:57 P.M. (L)