Ambassador Kritenbrink Remarks: Opening of the Cluster Munitions Remnants Survey Workshop

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Good morning! Thank you Jan-Erik Stoa for your kind introduction and all the work you, and your team at Norwegian People’s Aid, did to make this second Cluster Munitions Remnants Survey workshop a reality. The U.S. government is proud to sponsor this important event, and I thank the U.S. State Department’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement for inviting me to open this session.

We are honored to have representatives of the governments of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos with us: Mr. Hoàng Nam, Vice Chairman of Quang Tri Provincial People’s Committee; Mr. Nguyễn Văn Nghiệp, Deputy Director General of the Vietnam National Mine Action Center; Mr. Sophakmonkol Prum, Secretary General of the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority; and Mr. Chomyaeng Phengthongsawat, Director General of the National Regulatory Authority for the UXO/Mine Action Sector in the Lao-PDR.

I so enjoy being here in Quang Tri, in the sweeping plains between the mountains and the sea. And I thank our friends of this province, under the leadership of Chairman Nguyễn Đức Chính, for hosting us and for their unwavering support for our joint efforts to address the legacies of war. I am so glad that Vice Chairman of the Provincial People’s Committee Mr. Hoàng Nam and Mr. Nguyễn Đức Thiện, Director of the Quang Tri Mine Action Center, are here to share their vital perspective.

It is especially gratifying when my duties as U.S. Ambassador allow me to meet those of you – both in government service or in the many NGOs represented today – who do such critical work that directly save lives.

Your jobs are hard. You work long hours in difficult conditions, meticulously covering kilometers and kilometers of ground. But your work is so important. Because of you, farmers can harvest their cassava fields without fear. Because of you, mothers can send their children outside to play without worrying what they might find in the woods. Because of many of you in this room, not a single man, woman or child was a victim of a UXO-related injury in this province over the last two years. May we one day be able to say that about the entire region.

We need no more reminders of the tragedy of war. This region saw some of the most intense fighting of the last century. Later today, I will visit the bridge 20 kilometers from here that unites the two sides of the former demilitarized zone. I am acutely aware of the many bridges that have been built between the United States and the countries of this region after years of war and hardship. The first and most significant of those bridges was our joint effort to address legacies of war, including the decontamination of unexploded ordnance and the recovery of soldiers missing in action.

What success have we seen since this work began! Countless lives have been saved by decontamination efforts. Millions of square meters are now available for agriculture and development. We have recovered the remains of thousands of honored patriots – on all sides of the conflict – who sacrificed their lives for their country.

Here in Quang Tri specifically, you have been on the forefront of mine action in Vietnam and globally. Your coordinated efforts have helped develop the Cluster Munition Remnants Survey. An accurate survey enables better planning of clearance activities and allows resources to be put to use in the most needed areas. Leaders in Quang Tri have always set a vision of transparency and collaboration. The model of bringing the central and provincial governments together with international organizations and military units is setting a standard for others to follow, and I am glad you all will have the opportunity to discuss it here.

This important collaboration between the United States and Vietnam to address war legacies shows that today, the U.S.-Vietnam relationship is stronger than it has ever been. Together, we have forged a Comprehensive Partnership that covers every aspect of the relationship, from defense, to trade, to health, to people-to-people ties.

I am reminded of something that my dear friend and predecessor, Ambassador Pete Peterson, once told me:

Many people look at the U.S.-Vietnam relationship and call our progress a miracle! This is false. While what we continue to accomplish is nothing short of amazing, it is not by accident.

Everything we have achieved has been built on the painstaking work of those who came before. It is the result of decades of focused effort in our countries. All of your work is part of that effort.

Every single day, we work together with a common sense of purpose, for our mutual benefit – the very definition of a comprehensive partnership.

Our mission statement, our fundamental goal, is for the United States to be a vital partner in supporting the development of a strong, prosperous, and independent Vietnam that contributes to international security, engages in free, fair, and reciprocal trade, and respects human rights and the rule of law.

I know the Vietnamese government shares these goals. Though we have real – and sometimes spirited – differences of opinion on how best to achieve our shared objectives, candor and trust allow our relationship to move forward unabated.

Trust means we are a partner you can count on. It means when we say we will do something, we mean it – and will do it. Our continued commitment to addressing the legacies of war is a testament to this.

This area is critical because it is the foundation of our broader relationship. It is the result of a mutual commitment to reconciliation based on two principles: being honest about the past and looking toward the future. And today, we remain firmly committed to addressing war legacies issues. Beyond the UXO work you know so well, we recently successfully completed dioxin remediation at Danang Airport. We look forward to supporting Vietnam’s efforts to remediate dioxin at Bien Hoa airbase.

We also appreciate the continued support from the officials and people of Quang Tri Province in our search and recovery efforts to repatriate remains of Americans still missing from the war. Just last week, Vietnamese and U.S. specialists investigated several unresolved cases here in the province.

This work is important because of the people whose lives it touches. People-to-people ties strengthen the bonds between our nations on a personal and lasting basis.

The U.S. people are invested in Vietnam’s success. We are similarly invested in the people of Cambodia and Laos’ success.

The United States is committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific region made up of independent, strong nations.

The United States is committed to the economic well-being of the region. To achieve thriving economic growth, we must adhere to global norms that allow for an equitable playing field and encourage prosperity for all.

Annually, the United States conducts 1.8 trillion dollars in two-way trade with the Indo-Pacific region, and over the past decade, foreign direct investment by American companies has doubled to almost 940 billion dollars.

As part of our Indo-Pacific Strategy, Secretary Pompeo recently announced funding for new projects to develop greater digital connectivity, enhance strategic energy infrastructure, and make the U.S. more efficient in meeting the infrastructure needs of the region. This is just the start.

We recognize that part of this investment in the region’s future involves an investment in addressing the legacies of the past. That is why we have committed significant funding to decontamination activities in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

Your success is our success, and our commitment to your work is enduring.

I’m quite optimistic about our shared future together – particularly when you think about how far we’ve come already. The history of the U.S. relationship with Vietnam and with this region reveals the possibilities for peace and progress in our world.

Moving forward as partners, we will achieve great prosperity and success for our peoples.

As I wrap up, I’d like to take this opportunity to recognize one of the people who has contributed significantly to the progress I mentioned. Mr. Phil Bean, could you please come up?

Mr. Bean has been instrumental in developing the Cluster Munitions Remnants Survey methodology we will be discussing at this workshop. He helped it become a model of best practice in the UXO community.

As many of you know, Phil is retiring from full-time work after a long career in the humanitarian mine action sector. Most recently, he served as the UXO Program Advisor at the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane, a role he excelled in. All told, Phil has worked in the sector for more than 25 years, and his work has helped build safer communities in Southeast Asia and around the world.

To mark his years of dedicated service to the global conventional weapons destruction community – and his time helping oversee U.S. support to the sector – it is my pleasure to present him with this certificate of appreciation from the U.S. Department of State.

The award is from Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Clarke Cooper and reads, “in recognition of your substantial and lasting efforts to combat the threat posed by unexploded ordnance in Laos and throughout Southeast Asia. Your dedication to the humanitarian mine action sector has saved countless lives, promoted prosperity and stability in the places where it was most needed, and advanced major U.S. conventional weapons destruction priorities.”

Thank you, Phil. And thanks to all of you who are working towards a safer, more prosperous region for the peoples of South East Asia.

There is a lot of work remaining to do, but collaboration like this helps us realize our goals more efficiently.

During this workshop, I encourage you to share your knowledge and experiences with each other and to learn from your colleagues.

The challenges you have are some of the most difficult in the world. I am confident we have assembled the talent, energy, and expertise in this room to help us meet these challenges.