US, Vietnam defense chiefs reach deal to strengthen military ties

The United States and Vietnam have agreed to deepen military ties between the two nations, the top defense officials from both countries said on Monday.

U.S. defense officials plan to increase military-to-military cooperation efforts with their Vietnamese counterparts in five key areas, according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Vietnamese Defense Minister Gen. Phuong Quang Thanh.

These areas include maritime security, search and rescue operations, peacekeeping operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, according to recent news reports.

Both defense chiefs also pledged to continue military talks, building upon the progress made between the former Cold War foes after both countries signed a formal cooperation pact last year.

The decision to expand U.S. military ties with the Southeast Asian nation was "a signal of the United States’s enduring commitment to this important defense relationship of the future,” Panetta said on Monday during a joint press conference with Thanh in Hanoi.

The U.S.-Vietnam deal was inked during Panetta's visit to the region to participate in the multilateral Shangri-La security talks this past weekend.

Panetta's attendance at the security talks was the Penagon chief's latest attempt to garner support from allies in the region for the White House's new Pacific-focused national security strategy.

Terms of the deal closely mimicked those reached between Washington and Beijing during senior-level defense talks between the two countries in May.

At that time, Panetta and Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie agreed to include cyberwarfare as a sixth area of cooperation between the two global powers, along with the same five areas agreed to with Vietnam.

The meeting in May was the first time in nearly a decade that a Chinese defense minister has visited the United States in an official capacity.