US embassy cable - 03HANOI373

JOINT RESEARCH ON HEALTH/ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS OF AGENT ORANGE/DIOXIN - AN ASSESSMENT OF VIETNAMESE ATTITUDES

Identifier: 03HANOI373
Wikileaks: View 03HANOI373 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Hanoi
Created: 2003-02-16 01:22:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Tags: KSCA KTIA TSPL TNGD PREL TBIO OSCI SCUL ENRG OTRA TRGY MNUC VM
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 09 HANOI 000373 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED 
 
DEPT FOR EAP/BCLTV, OES/STC (GGROTH), 
     STAS (NNEUREITER), EAP/RSP, EAP/PD AND OES/PCI 
DEPT PASS HHS FOR OGHA/STEIGER; NIH/FIC/GKEUSCH; 
     NIH/NIEHS/OLDEN, PORTIER; CDC/OGH/BLOUNT; 
     CDC/CEH/SINKS, BARRETT, NEEDHAM; FDA/OIA/WBATTS 
DEPT PASS USAID FOR G/ENV, G/H 
DEPT PASS EPA FOR WFARLAND 
DEPT PASS OSTP FOR GAINES 
BANGKOK FOR REO 
SECDEF ALSO FOR ISA/AP/LSTERN AND ES/WVAN HOUTEN 
USDA FOR FAA/AO/SSAP/HEUTE, ITP/ODA/SHEIKH 
NSC FOR BEARDSWORTH 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: KSCA, KTIA, TSPL, TNGD, PREL, TBIO, OSCI, SCUL, ENRG, OTRA, TRGY, MNUC, VM 
SUBJECT:  JOINT RESEARCH ON HEALTH/ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS OF 
AGENT ORANGE/DIOXIN - AN ASSESSMENT OF VIETNAMESE ATTITUDES 
 
SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED - PLEASE PROTECT ACCORDINGLY 
 
1.  (U) This is an action cable.  Please see Paragraph 13 
below. 
 
2.  (SBU) SUMMARY:  To date, the Government of Vietnam (GVN) 
has made little, if any, progress towards achieving the 
goals set forth in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) 
signed in Hanoi on March 10, 2002, following bilateral 
meetings held in Hanoi after the International Agent 
Orange/Dioxin Conference funded by the U.S. National 
Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). 
Embassy believes that this lack of progress reflects the 
unwillingness of the GVN to allow its scientists to engage 
in genuinely transparent, open rigorous scientific 
investigation to determine the true extent of the impact of 
AO/dioxin on health in Vietnam.  We believe that the GVN 
will attempt to control, disrupt, or block any research 
project that could potentially produce scientific evidence 
that refutes the GVN's allegations of broad, catastrophic 
damage to the health of Vietnamese citizens, especially 
birth defects.  Joint research on the environmental issues 
will probably be limited to projects that focus on soil 
sampling and searches for low-cost emerging remediation 
technologies.  Another factor that has hampered overall 
Vietnamese responsiveness has been the disruption of the 
leadership and functioning of National Steering Committee 33 
(responsible for oversight of all issues related to Agent 
Orange) that resulted from the creation of the Ministry of 
National Resources and Environment in August 2002.  Despite 
this assessment, the Embassy advocates continuing the USG 
effort to promote cooperative scientific research programs, 
while at the same time taking a straightforward approach to 
counter the Vietnamese propaganda campaign that hinges on 
non-scientific, but visually effective and emotionally 
charged, methodology aimed at laying blame on the USG.  Two 
new proposed projects funded by NIEHS, one in environmental 
remediation technologies and one in health research related 
to pregnancy, will provide a gauge by which to further 
assess Vietnamese attitudes and intentions.  END SUMMARY 
 
3.  (U) Dr. Anne Sassaman, Director, Extramural Grant 
Program, National Institute of Environmental Health 
Sciences, visited Hanoi during October 27-31, 2002, to 
continue the dialogue with Vietnamese counterparts on joint 
scientific research on health and environmental effects of 
Agent Orange (AO)/dioxin in Vietnam, and to determine status 
of Vietnamese efforts and attitudes towards pursuit of goals 
defined in the Memorandum of Understanding signed on March 
10, 2002, following bilateral discussions in Hanoi. 
Embassy/Hanoi EST Officer accompanied Dr. Sassaman to most 
of her relevant meetings.  In November, Dr. Sassaman briefed 
members of the Interagency Working Group on AO/Dioxin (IWG- 
AO/D) in Washington on the results of her visit.  On January 
16, 2003, Embassy EST Officer met with Dr. Nguyen Tien Dung, 
Director, Office 33, to follow-up on the unresolved issues 
that had been discussed during Dr. Sassaman's visit.  In 
early February, EST Officer also met with NIEHS officer in 
charge of organizing an environmental assessment and 
remediation workshop and the U.S. lead investigator in a 
joint health research project that has received approval and 
funding by NIEHS.  Embassy wishes to provide the IWG with 
our observations and assessment of Vietnamese attitudes 
toward implementation on joint scientific research. 
 
4.  (SBU) Although the history of U.S. Government (USG) 
efforts to engage the Vietnamese in joint scientific 
research go back as far as 1994, we will look at events over 
the past two years, beginning in December 2000 at the 
bilateral meetings held in Singapore.  Based on our 
observations of Vietnamese behavior over the past two years, 
interaction with key players and observers on the Vietnamese 
side following the March 2002 International Conference in 
Hanoi funded by NIEHS, the results of Dr. Sassaman's recent 
visit, and EST Officer's recent meetings with Office 33, the 
Embassy's assessment is that the Government of Vietnam (GVN) 
has no intentions of allowing its scientists to engage in 
genuinely transparent, open, rigorous scientific 
investigation to determine the true extent of the impact of 
AO/dioxin on health in Vietnam.  Why?  Because, we believe, 
the GVN will never permit research that in any way might 
discredit the main theme of its two-decade long propaganda 
campaign, i.e., AO/dioxin is to blame for a huge range of 
serious health problems - especially birth defects and 
mental retardation - of residents of central and southern 
areas and/or northern soldiers who served there.  We feel 
certain that many responsible GVN and Communist Party 
officials know that allegations of the extreme degree of 
adverse impact of AO/dioxin on health are grossly 
exaggerated and unsupported by any objective measure.  Thus, 
to engage in a truly comprehensive scientific research 
program would expose the official folly, and place the 
government in an untenable position.  It would also open a 
Pandora's Box of questions about why the GVN - and more 
importantly, the Communist Party - has misled its people and 
focused on demonizing AO/dioxin and failed to carry out 
appropriate public health programs that could have mitigated 
other sources of threats to human health.  It is our 
assessment that the GVN will permit only research that they 
are confident will support and/or lend credence to their 
claims.  Thus, any proposal that includes verifiable 
measures of exposure, and independent validation of 
diagnosis, the sine-qua-non of scientific study for health 
impact assessment, will not be acceptable to the GVN.  If 
there is any uncertainty about the outcome of the research, 
they will either not approve it or cancel it if subsequent 
indications imply that the results could contradict their 
propaganda message.  We believe there are Vietnamese 
scientists who, if given the opportunity, would seek to 
conduct high quality scientific research.  No matter what 
their motives and intentions, virtually all Vietnamese 
scientists view joint research with U.S. experts as an 
excellent mechanism by which to acquire training, equipment, 
and technology.   Why did the GVN finally agree to 
scientific research?  In our view, they realized that 
agreement to engage in joint research would give the 
appearance of cooperation with the USG, while at the same 
enhance their leverage in pursuit of their main objective - 
financial compensation and support for research 
infrastructure from audiences sympathetic to their 
propaganda message.  Thus, we believe the GVN's highest 
priority continues to be waging its ongoing propaganda 
campaign to morally indict the USG in collaborations with 
sympathetic members of the broader international community 
as its highest priority.  Engagement in a scientific 
research endeavor is a secondary, supporting effort of the 
primary strategy to force the USG to bow to international 
pressure and in the words of several of the international 
interlocutors of the GVN's position, "address the chemical 
holocaust that has been visited on Vietnam - to fully 
remunerate and premeditate the devastation caused and denied 
since the 1960's." 
 
5.  (SBU) On the environmental side, the Vietnamese probably 
will not attempt to exert such heavy-handed control because 
the focus of initial research is to test/evaluate relatively 
inexpensive emerging soil sampling and remediation 
technologies in locations where both sides agree there is a 
high probability of dioxin residue in the soil (i.e., the 
suspected "hot spots").  The ongoing pilot project between 
U.S. EPA and the Vietnamese scientists at a suspected hot 
spot in Danang Airbase is the only ongoing project upon 
which to judge Vietnamese behavior.  We note that permission 
for the soil samples obtained from that site to be sent back 
to the U.S. for state-of-the-art testing was not granted 
until after/after the soil sampling tests in Hanoi 
demonstrated the high probability of a heavy dioxin residue. 
We are waiting on the results of the testing in the U.S. and 
follow-up visits by EPA.  The next phase of the "Danang 
Project" is to seek methods of defining the parameters of a 
"hot spot" and evaluating/assessing emerging low-cost 
technologies for a pilot remediation project.  The 
counterpart Vietnamese scientists are enthusiastic about 
this project. 
 
6.  (SBU) The Vietnamese are more willing to study the 
environmental effects, but we anticipate that there are 
caveats.  We predict they will not participate in or allow 
studies that would cause problems for their agricultural 
export industries.  Thus, any study that looks at dioxin 
contamination of food products will only be permitted if it 
cannot be generalized to types and classes of foods that are 
only of commercial importance to Vietnam, or in areas that 
do not have any commercial food production.  Thus, it will 
never be possible to do broad and scientifically useful 
ecologic studies of dioxin.  Second, they will not permit 
studies that undermine their propaganda campaign.  For 
example, the Hatfield Consultants research report showed 
that in the areas of heaviest spraying, the AO/dioxin 
applied by aerial spraying was no longer at levels 
considered hazardous to health.  This finding has never been 
publicly admitted or commented on by the Vietnamese - and 
subsequent soil sampling for areas of aerial spraying has 
not been permitted. 
 
7.  (SBU) National Steering Committee 33, the entity 
responsible for oversight and management of all programs to 
deal with all issues related to AO, is composed of 
representatives from at least ten different ministries or 
equivalent level organizations.  The government decree that 
established Committee 33 is classified "secret"; most or all 
documents related to AO or the committee's actions are also 
classified as they are considered to have national security 
implications.  The senior representative from each ministry 
or agency is a Vice-Minister or equivalent rank.  Committee 
33 guides/controls the health and environmental research, 
the internal propaganda campaign, the campaign to acquire 
foreign donations, etc.  Although we do not know the precise 
mechanisms by which this committee operates, we assume that 
ministries such as S&T, Natural Resources and Environment, 
Foreign Affairs, Health, Culture and Information, National 
Defense, and Public Security as well as the Communist Party 
Central Committee and the National Assembly play important, 
key roles in the decision making process.  Former Minister 
of Science, Technology and Environment Dr. Chu Tuan Nha 
served as the Chairman until he was replaced as Minister in 
August 2002.   Minister Nha, a scientist, was viewed by the 
Embassy as someone with a generally pragmatic, objective 
attitude who supported scientific research (but still 
spouted the party line about "victims" when necessary).  In 
October 2002, Committee 33 Standing Vice-Chairman Dr. Pham 
Khoi Nguyen, who has now moved from his position of Vice- 
Minister of S&T to become a Vice-Minister in the newly 
created Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment 
(MONRE), told Dr. Sassaman that a recommendation had gone 
forward to the Office of Government to appoint a Deputy 
Prime Minister (DPM) to chair the committee.  Dr. Nguyen 
commented that elevating the chair to a higher level would 
make the Committee more efficient (presumably because a DPM 
would have more clout to resolve disputes between 
ministries).  However, in January 2003, the GVN issued a 
decree appointing Mr. Mai Ai Truc, Minister of Natural 
Resources and Environment, as the new Chairman.  Although 
the chairmanship was not elevated to the DPM level, 
oversight of Committee 33 was shifted from DPM Pham Gia 
Khiem, whose portfolio includes S&T and education, to First 
DPM Nguyen Tan Dung.   This shift in oversight of Committee 
33 coincided with placement of MONRE under the oversight of 
DPM Dung.  Minister Truc is not a scientist.  His academic 
background is literature; his entire career has been spent 
working in the Party and/or People's Committee of Binh Dinh 
Province.   Despite Minister Truc's lack of scientific 
credentials, he has told the Ambassador that he has first- 
hand experience with the spraying of AO and AO's impact on 
the environment and health.  He said that, in his home 
province, AO had caused bananas to grow to an enormous size. 
The poor, starving residents had no choice but to eat this 
AO-contaminated fruit.  As a result, the women had borne 
many children with birth defects.  Minister Truc's comments 
dovetailed nicely with the Vietnamese propaganda line.  The 
Ambassador responded politely that there could be many other 
possible causes of birth defects, including deficiencies in 
prenatal care and the diet of pregnant women, and this 
potential myriad of factors was the basis for the USG's 
desire to conduct good scientific research to find the 
answers. 
 
8.  (SBU) In discussions with the Dr. Nguyen Tien Dung, 
Director of Office 33 (permanent staff for Committee 33), 
Dr. Sassaman described the process for 
reviewing/approving/funding research grants submitted to 
NIEHS.  A key feature was the independent peer review to 
evaluate the quality of the science.  Dr. Dung explained 
that, in the Vietnamese process for research on topics 
related to AO/dioxin, a proposal would undergo scientific 
review (not an independent peer review, but one conducted by 
a government ministry, such as Ministry of Health for health- 
related research), and then go to Committee 33 for final 
approval.  Committee 33's decision would be based not on the 
merits of the science and/or potential benefits to 
understanding the issue, but rather on non-scientific 
factors and points of view (e.g., internal political, 
national defense).  Both Dr. Dung and MONRE Vice-Minister 
Dr. Pham Khoi Nguyen frequently used the term "control" when 
describing Committee 33's role.  Dr. Dung explained that 
data/information related to GVN policy on AO was still 
considered a "state secret" and water, soil, human 
tissue/blood samples were also considered to be state 
secrets.  Committee 33's approval would be required each 
 
SIPDIS 
time a scientist wished to send such items out of Vietnam 
for testing and analysis.  In response to a question about 
the process for obtaining approvals, Dr. Dung explained that 
even if Committee 33 approved a research proposal that 
clearly defined parameters of health research (defined 
geographic area, target population, intended use of samples, 
etc), approval would not be a blanket approval for the 
lifetime of the project.  Committee 33 would have to approve 
the shipment of each batch of samples.  The authority cannot 
be delegated to a single senior official or to a sub- 
committee.  This control factor would allow the Vietnamese 
to stifle a research project at any point.  In this context, 
Dr. Sassaman and Dr. Dung discussed the unresolved issues in 
the MOU related to:  a) the degree to which research 
findings will be made available to the international 
scientific community; b) the avenues through which research 
findings will be published; and c) the process that must be 
followed for publication approval.  Dr. Dung's description 
of the Vietnamese perception of these issues was that 
"control" (of information and research findings) was of 
paramount concern to Committee 33.  Dr. Sassaman explained 
that no credible U.S. researcher would be willing to invest 
time and effort into a project which could be undermined or 
whose findings could not be published.  Dr. Sassaman 
stressed that this was not a point to be taken lightly, and 
Dr. Dung promised to relay her remarks to Committee 33. 
 
9.  (SBU) On January 16, 2003, EST Officer met with Dr. Dung 
to discuss the status of  Vietnam's efforts to move forward 
on the issues discussed with Dr. Sassaman.  Dr. Dung offered 
the following. 
 
         -- Office 33 has submitted a proposal to Committee 
33 and Chairman Truc for establishing a mechanism for 
general approval for human tissue and blood samples to be 
sent abroad for testing and analysis.  Dr. Dung would not 
offer an anticipated timeframe for approval. 
 
         -- Committee 33 has not yet appointed Vietnamese 
members of a Vietnam-US Joint Advisory Committee, which per 
the March 10 (2002) Memorandum of Understanding, would be 
established to define the scope of the joint research 
program; coordinate the collaborative research program on 
human health and environmental effects of Agent 
Orange/Dioxin; and review and approve research content areas 
under the program.  (BEGIN COMMENT:  The U.S. members were 
appointed in the summer of 2002.  END COMMENT) 
 
         -- Dr. Dung advised that Committee 33 had not yet 
received the Vietnamese text of a joint grant proposal for 
joint health research project submitted to NIEHS by a U.S. 
investigator with a Vietnamese Ministry of Health 
counterpart investigator.   (BEGIN COMMENT:  During Dr. 
Sassaman's October 2002 visit, she discussed this proposal 
with both Dr. Dung and the Vietnamese investigator.  At that 
time, the Vietnamese investigator stated that the proposal 
was being translated into Vietnamese.  Subsequently, in 
January 2003, the proposal was evaluated via NIEHS's 
independent peer review board and scored well enough to 
receive funding.   EST Officer informed Dr. Dung that NIEHS 
would be willing to fund the project only/only after 
receiving formal confirmation that Committee 33 had approved 
the project, and the issues of publication and human 
tissue/blood testing had been resolved.   END COMMENT) 
 
10.  (SBU) The following is a brief review of GVN actions 
that tend to support our assessment. 
         --During the December 2000 bilateral talks in 
Singapore, the Vietnamese delegation spent three days in a 
failed attempt to get the U.S. side to sign a Memorandum of 
Understanding which included a U.S. commitment to provide 
humanitarian assistance to all the "victims" of AO/dioxin as 
a pre-condition for engaging in joint scientific research. 
A central theme was "the research has already been done and 
we already know the results show direct cause-effect 
relationship between AO/dioxin and the health of Vietnamese 
people." 
 
         --The Vietnamese print and visual media 
consistently conveys the message that there are many 
"victims" of AO for which the USG should accept 
responsibility providing humanitarian assistance.  The 
frequency and tone sharpen just before and just after 
significant events. 
 
         --The Vietnamese organizers (under direction from 
Committee 33) refused to allow the international press to 
attend the March 2002 conference.  Following the conference, 
the main theme of Vietnamese media articles was not related 
to the science.  Rather, the theme was "the USG finally 
admitted that U.S. military forces had sprayed millions of 
gallons of AO during the war." 
 
         --The GVN's consistent, persistent message has 
been, "we do not need the science to prove a link between 
AO/dioxin and the health of our people.   We already have 
the proof."  This message runs counter to any expression of 
intent to engage in serious joint scientific research, but 
it is being parroted by the press (as mouthpieces of the 
Party and the bureaucracy of government), by government 
officials at all levels, by educated citizens in all walks 
of life, and by many international NGOs and other 
institutions.  The success of the propaganda campaign has 
strengthened the GVN's resolve to continue on that front 
while at the same time maintaining a faade of willingness 
to engage the U.S. in scientific research on health effects. 
 
         --Except for the Danang soil sampling project, the 
GVN has made no progress towards achieving goals set forth 
in the March 10 MOU, not even to appoint members to the 
joint advisory committee that is to provide oversight to 
define the scope of the overall joint research program; 
coordinate the collaborative research program on human 
health and environmental effects of Agent Orange/Dioxin; and 
review and approve research content areas under the program. 
The creation of MONRE and the subsequent turmoil caused in 
establishing a new management team within Committee 33 can 
explain some of the inertia.  However, at the same time, the 
propaganda campaign was not disrupted. 
 
11.  (SBU) As an indicator of the pervasiveness of the 
Vietnamese position on AO/dioxin, we would like to share the 
failure of our recent efforts to engage the Vietnamese in a 
broader effort to look at public health issues that that 
might be easily resolved.  At several points, HHS has 
suggested to Vietnamese counterparts an affordable and 
effective national campaign to eliminate cretinism. 
Multiple sets of national data strongly indicate that 
cretinism is the leading cause of preventable mental 
retardation.  Hypothyroidism in pregnant women due to lack 
of iodine has been a national epidemic for as long as the 
data has been recorded.  Multiple surveys have shown 
prevalence rates of between 15 and 40% of goiter in pregnant 
women.  Various biochemical surveys have documented many 
pregnant women with no detectable iodine in their urine. 
This provides conclusive evidence that their baby will be 
born with a significant mental defect, and in many cases, 
with severe and profound mental retardation.  Off the 
record, many international public health experts estimate 
numbers of cretins born each year in Vietnam at a minimum in 
the tens of thousands.  However, we have been unable to get 
the GVN to engage in a substantive, high priority national 
program for elimination of this deficiency.  There could be 
various reasons for the GVN's reluctance to start such a 
program.  We understand that it took the World Health 
Organization many years to convince some African countries 
to participate in a similar program.  However, we must 
assume that some knowledgeable Vietnamese officials 
recognize that conducting such a public campaign would lead 
even the average citizen to wonder if the condition of a 
vast majority of profoundly retarded children, whose 
affliction has been blamed on AO/dioxin, could have been 
avoided easily by pre-emptive remediation of a nutritional 
deficiency.  Here are other examples of easily remediable 
problems that are given insufficient attention, perhaps 
because doing so would undermine the AO/dioxin blame game: 
the high rates of cerebral palsy in the general population 
due to birth injury, the epidemic of liver cancer due to 
chronic active hepatitis because of poor medical practices 
and inadequate blood screening.  Both of these conditions 
are routinely blamed on AO/dioxin.  Parenthetically, we also 
note a similar approach taken to another significant issue 
of disability in Vietnam - the issue of UXO.  The government 
makes every attempt to use this to generate sympathy and 
funding, especially with the international community, and 
often links the two issues of AO/dioxin and UXO together to 
maximize the effect of demonizing the US for the "holocaust" 
of the Vietnam War (a term that is constantly used by the 
GVN and their international sympathizers).  The GVN never 
mentions that much of the UXO resulted from their own 
military and guerilla operations in the affected provinces 
and any attempt to quantify this is always stopped 
immediately. 
 
12.  (SBU) Pending Projects By Which to Gauge Vietnamese 
Attitudes and Intentions: 
 
           a.  (SBU) On 7 February, EST Officer and NIEHS 
officer Dr. William Suk met with the two lead Vietnamese 
scientific investigators in the Danang Soil Sampling Project 
being conducted jointly with U.S. EPA.  Dr. Suk is taking 
the lead in an NIEHS plan to organize a workshop in Vietnam 
to explore new, emerging technologies related to 
environmental assessment and remediation.  This workshop 
would be the first step in the next phase of the Danang 
Project already discussed between EPA and the counterpart 
Vietnamese organization for this project, the National 
Center for Natural Science and Technology (NCST).  The 
Vietnamese investigators were very excited about the 
potential for this workshop, and offered the use of NCST 
facilities.  However, they emphasized that GVN and Committee 
33 approvals would not be automatic.  They expressed 
optimism that Dr. Dang Vu Minh, Director General, NCST (and 
a member of the Communist Party Central Committee and a 
member of the National Assembly), who was tasked by the GVN 
to manage the Danang Project, would support the workshop. 
           b.  (SBU) On 8 February, EST Officer met with Dr. 
David Carpenter, School of Public Health, University of New 
York at Albany, who is the lead U.S. investigator on a joint 
research project with the Hanoi Medical University related 
to effects of AO/Dioxin on pregnancy.  In January 2003, this 
project was approved by NIEHS for a 3-year grant.   NIEHS is 
withholding release of funds pending receipt of formal 
notification that Committee 33 has approved the proposal 
without substantive changes.  Dr. Carpenter was in Hanoi to 
meet with the lead Vietnamese investigator.   (COMMENT: 
Embassy suggests that the IWG seek more details on the 
project from NIEHS.  END COMMENT)  Dr. Carpenter, having 
expected some obstacles related to funding issues, was 
upbeat after his conversations with the Vietnamese 
investigators.  However, as noted in Paragraph 9 above, this 
proposal has not been yet been submitted to Committee 33 for 
approval.  The lead Vietnamese investigator did not mention 
any problems related to obtaining approval for shipment of 
blood samples to the U.S. and predicted approval would be 
granted for the overall project by April 2003.  EST Officer 
and Dr. Carpenter discussed the potential for Committee 33, 
even after granting general approval, to interfere with the 
efficiency of the research.  (BEGIN COMMENT:  On 7 February, 
one of the NCST investigators in the Danang Project, who was 
familiar with the Carpenter project, voiced the opinion that 
Committee 33 would never approve a project which allowed all 
blood samples to be shipped to the U.S. for analysis.  The 
investigator cited ongoing problems (mainly lengthy delays) 
in obtaining Committee 33's approval to ship soil samples to 
the U.S. and third countries.  END COMMENT)  Embassy views 
this project to be a litmus test to evaluate the GVN's 
willingness to pursue good science and demonstrate its 
intentions towards health research on the AO/dioxin issue. 
This is a pioneer endeavor. 
 
13.  (SBU) The USG must decide how to address the issue of 
scientific cooperation, since it is now clear that the GVN 
is unwilling to engage in any real scientific cooperation 
and will undercut the effort to serve its propaganda 
objectives.  We feel that ignoring this situation will have 
the probable outcome of continued success on the part of the 
Vietnamese in engaging the broader international community 
to exert pressure on the USG to remediate and remunerate all 
the "victims."  The issue is how to address this.  We 
encourage the IWG and others in the USG to focus on this 
issue. 
 
           -- The Vietnamese are succeeding at their 
longstanding propaganda campaign.  We need to counter the 
disinformation with valid, scientifically documented 
information.  We should challenge bogus, slanted journalism 
- both vernacular and international - with factual, 
objective responses that expose the fallacies of the GVN 
propaganda and describe other potential factors that 
contribute to the health problems that the Vietnamese 
attribute solely to AO/dioxin.  Silence or bland, non- 
specific responses will only tend to "confirm" the 
disinformation in the eyes of the audience.  We should 
publicize our efforts to engage and support the Vietnamese 
in joint scientific research, and expose foot dragging 
and/or efforts by the GVN (Committee 33) to stymie the 
progress of a worthwhile project.   We should not hesitate 
to respond to efforts to attribute all maladies to AO/Dioxin 
by noting the large number of Vietnamese who are victims of 
their own government's inability to provide them with 
adequate nutrition, quality medical services and protection 
from environmental.  The Embassy cannot accomplish this 
alone.  Our Public Affairs Officer, with support from the 
new HHS officer (not yet selected) who will serve as Embassy 
Health Attach, needs support to deal with Vietnamese 
propaganda campaign and the constant barrage of queries from 
the international media.  Embassy requests that the IWG, 
with support from NIH/NIEHS, prepare a concise summary on 
dioxin, which Embassy and other agencies involved in the 
AO/Dioxin issue can use as a basis for talking points that 
address key questions related to dioxin and what the 
international scientific community knows about it.  Our 
intent is that this would provide sufficient factual, 
objective information that would demonstrate why the USG has 
taken the position that there are many unanswered questions 
about the health effects, and justify our call for further 
scientific research to determine how much, if any, adverse 
impact AO/dioxin has had on health in Vietnam.  In other 
words, we need to be able to counter the Vietnamese position 
that exposure to dioxin, no matter under what circumstances 
and at what levels, eliminates all other possible causes of 
a health problem.  This document would also serve as a 
primer for the uninformed, particularly the press who tend 
to focus solely on the fact that dioxin is a persistent 
organic pollutant linked to health problems. 
 
           -- The Embassy is not advocating that we turn our 
backs on sincere, genuine efforts to pressure the Vietnamese 
to engage in serious scientific research.  We advocate 
continuing a proactive approach to demonstrate to all 
stakeholders that we want the March 10 MOU to be a framework 
for advancing science, not just a piece of signed paper that 
serves as "evidence" for the Vietnamese propaganda machine 
to prove that the U.S. accepted blame for spraying 
herbicides during the war and by default accepted the 
allegations of causing catastrophic damage to the health of 
hundreds thousands of Vietnamese citizens.  Embassy will 
support the U.S. agencies (NIEHS, EPA, CDC) in all phases of 
the Danang Project, including the new initiative on 
exploring remediation technologies, and the health research 
project currently awaiting Committee 33 approval.  We will 
try to "push the right buttons" from the Office to 
Government down to the functional agencies in the Vietnamese 
bureaucracy to keep up pressure for implementation of these 
projects. 
 
           --Embassy expects the soon-to-be assigned Health 
Attach to take the lead in promoting cooperation in health 
research by supporting NIEHS programs and by interacting 
closely with the appropriate counterparts in the Ministry of 
Health and the medical universities. 
BURGHARDT 

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