US-Vietnam meeting on Agent Orange opens

Hanoi – US and Vietnamese experts and officials opened a weeklong meeting Monday in Hanoi on US aid to remediate the effects of Agent Orange, the chemical defoliant the United States sprayed during the Vietnam War. US Ambassador Michael Michalak welcomed the fact that the Vietnamese had “begun to focus on facts and answers rather than blame,” and hailed their “desire to find mutually acceptable solutions.”

Vietnam has long claimed that millions of its citizens suffer cancer, birth defects and other health problems resulting from exposure to Agent Orange, which contained high levels of the toxic chemical dioxin. The United States sprayed millions of gallons of the defoliant from airplanes to clear away jungles used as camouflage by communist troops during the Vietnam War.

The United States said it is impossible to link dioxin from Agent Orange to any specific cases of illness, and American scientists generally consider Vietnamese estimates of the number of victims exaggerated.

Nguyen Minh Y, head of international relations at the Vietnamese Association of Victims of Agent Orange, said he hoped the meeting could “work out a way to help the victims forget about the pain” but called US aid so far “a drop in the bucket.”

“Their aid has not proven effective,” Y said. “Most of the money has been paid to the staff working in their projects while Agent Orange victims have not benefited from their projects.

“Recent studies have shown that dioxin levels across Vietnam are normal but that “hot spots” remain, particularly near former US airbases where Agent Orange was handled. In 2007, the US Congress approved 3 million dollars for projects to seal contaminated soil and take other remediation measures.

The US government has been willing to provide aid to disabled Vietnamese, provided that the aid is not viewed as compensation for Agent Orange. A coalition of US and Vietnamese foundations and non-governmental organizations has set up a group, the US-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange, to coordinate broader American aid.

US soldiers exposed to Agent Orange have received compensation since the 1980s from the chemical companies that manufactured it, but no Vietnamese have been compensated. In February a US Court of Appeals dismissed a suit by several dozen ill Vietnamese against the chemical companies.



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