Remarks by USAID Deputy Administrator Bonnie Glick at the United States Institute of Peace

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Overcoming War Legacies: The Road to Reconciliation and Future Cooperation Between the U.S. and Vietnam

Good morning everyone. Thank you Ambassador Taylor for that kind introduction, and thank you all very much for having me here today.

Thank you, too, to the United States Institute of Peace and Nancy Lindborg for hosting this important event -- the ability to bring together this exceptional group of participants is a testament to your convening influence and the value we all see in events like today’s where we can share experiences and learn from each other.

Thank you, too, to Vice Minister Nguyễn Chí Vịnh and to Senator Leahy for your engagement on this important bilateral relationship. Finally, thanks to my great team from USAID that focuses on hard issues and on advancing our engagement with Vietnam.

We are here today celebrating the strong relationship between the United States and Vietnam, due largely to two tracks of engagement that transpired concurrently. As the United States sought the return of our MIAs, the Vietnamese sought help with their war-wounded, and that is where USAID’s humanitarian work played a major role.

At USAID our job is to walk alongside our partner countries and join with them on their journey to self-reliance -- to work toward the day when foreign assistance is no longer necessary. I am so proud of the work that USAID has accomplished with our Vietnamese partners over the past 30 or so years, which has contributed significantly to Vietnam’s strong position today.

Our predecessor agencies first came to Vietnam in the early 1950s, and we returned, as the United States Agency for International Development, in 1989, to engage in humanitarian actions that would lay the foundation for our current partnership and closer cooperation.

In 1988, President Reagan commissioned a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Vessey, to develop a "roadmap to normalization" of relations between the U.S. and Vietnam. Over the course of the next two years, five missions were made to Hanoi, after which General Vessey's team identified the highest priority of each government, and submitted a series of recommendations to the president.

The US priority was a full accounting of POW/MIAs, and a process including on-the-ground searches began in 1991, which led to the uncovering of the remains of about 900 American military personnel over the next two decades.

In conjunction with those efforts, and thanks to historic legislation spearheaded by Senator Leahy, in 1991 USAID also began a program designed to address the priorities of the Government of Vietnam. The first was the needs of Vietnam’s war-wounded -- primarily the estimated 250,000 amputees who had minimal if any access to appropriate prosthetic or rehabilitation services.

In those early years, USAID's assistance supported the local production and fitting of prosthetic limbs and wheelchairs. The program was designed in cooperation with the Vietnamese government, and drew upon the services and experience of American NGOs to develop local Vietnamese government and non-governmental capacities.

USAID provided high-quality prosthetic and rehabilitation training for local staff, the procurement of materials and equipment, and construction of facilities.

Consistent with good development policy and practice, USAID also asked the International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics to provide oversight for technical assistance work that was supported under the Leahy War Victims Fund.

After the program began, a dictum was added to the USAID-supported program guidance, which was "Nothing About Us Without Us." So we also added a comprehensive program element to build an "inclusive" social infrastructure in Vietnam, developed along the lines of our Americans with Disabilities Act, to guide all governmental policies and budgets.

A lot of barriers had to be broken, a lot of history set aside in the interest of moving forward. But ultimately USAID’s attention to these strategic issues allowed us to develop the necessary trust and confidence of our Vietnamese counterparts for the program to grow and mature.

These humanitarian contributions to the Vietnamese people, in parallel with Vietnam's help in recovering our MIAs, demonstrates how such a mutually beneficial approach has contributed to a sustainable and effective bilateral relationship that lasts to this day.

USAID continues to support Vietnamese partners in serving the disabled, like the Disability Research and Development Center, the Action to the Community Development Center and VietHealth.

I am enormously proud of USAID’s contribution to this entire, historic process of healing and reconciliation.

Since the official normalization of the U.S.‑Vietnam relationship in 1995, USAID’s programming has grown steadily, while Vietnam has made an extraordinary leap -- in the span of not much more than a generation -- from poverty to a rapidly growing economy.

Washington, DC

Last updated: March 28, 2019

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