WASHINGTON (AP) -- Vietnam's top diplomat said Friday his government would welcome a U.S. contribution to a fund to help overcome the human and environmental effects of the defoliants used by the American military during the Indochina War.
Foreign Minister Nguyen Cam told reporters after several days of talks here the two sides agreed to conduct scientific research into the overall issue of toxic substances used by U.S. forces during the war.
The Vietnamese Red Cross launched a fund in July for victims of Agent Orange, saying the toxic defoliant is starting to claim its third generation of victims. The substance was sprayed over the jungle by U.S. planes to strip away cover for North Vietnamese troops.
Cam's translator initially reported that the diplomat had said the United States expressed interest in contributing to the fund. But Vietnamese officials later amended the translation to say that Cam only said he would welcome an American contribution. A U.S. official confirmed there had been no official expression of interest in a donation.
Estimates of Agent Orange victims range from tens of thousands to 2 million Vietnamese. In April, Vietnam ordered the first nationwide survey, which is expected to be completed next year.
According to U.S. records, the United States sprayed about 12 million gallons of Agent Orange from 1961 to 1971 over parts of southern and central Vietnam.
The total included about 375 pounds of dioxin, a trace of which can cause cancer.
Cam, who also serves as deputy prime minister, is the highest ranking Vietnamese official to visit the United States since normal ties were established in 1995. Receiving unusually high-level treatment, Cam met with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Defense Secretary William Cohen, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, top U.S. trade officials and members of Congress.
He said the one-time military rivals are interested in establishing military-to-military ties. Such links "will enrich understanding between the two nations," Cam said, speaking through a translator. He noted that U.S.-Vietnamese military exchanges already have occurred.
Cam added that the two governments pledged to redouble efforts to reach a trade agreement. The absence of such an agreement has prevented Vietnam from having access to normal U.S. tariff rates.
The impetus for Vietnam to conclude a trade pact is rising as its economy slows amid the fallout of the Asian economic crisis. It is courting foreign investors from outside Asia, where competition for funds has become increasingly tight.
He said 400 U.S. firms are doing business in Vietnam, and he expressed hope that the number will increase substantially.
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