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Kerry pledges $17 million in aid to Vietnam's Mekong Delta

| Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, 6:39 p.m.

KIEN VANG, Vietnam — From an American gunboat decades ago, John Kerry patrolled for communist insurgents on the winding, muddy waters of the Mekong Delta. From those familiar waterways, the top U.S. diplomat confronted a modern enemy on Sunday — climate change.

In this remote part of southern Vietnam, rising sea waters, erosion and upstream dam development on the Mekong River are proving a more serious threat than the Viet Cong guerrillas whom Kerry battled in 1968 and 1969.

“Decades ago, on these very waters, I was one of many who witnessed the difficult period in our shared history,” Kerry told a group of young professionals gathered near a dock at the riverfront village of Kien Vang. “Today, on these waters, I am bearing witness to how far our two nations have come together, and we are talking about the future, and that's the way it ought to be.”

That future, especially for the water-dependent economy of the millions who live in the Mekong Delta, is in jeopardy, he said.

Kerry pledged $17 million to a program that will help the region's rice producers, shrimp and crab farmers and fishermen adapt to potential changes caused by higher sea levels that bring saltwater into the ecosystem. Kerry said he would make it a personal priority to ensure that none of the six countries that share the Mekong — China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam — and depend on it for the livelihoods of an estimated 60 million people exploits the river at the expense of the others.

In a pointed reference to China, which plans several Mekong Dam projects that could affect downstream populations, Kerry said, “No one country has a right to deprive another country of a livelihood, an ecosystem and its capacity for life itself that comes from that river. That river is a global asset, a treasure that belongs to the region.”

The Mekong's resources must “benefit people not just in one country, not just in the country where the waters come first, but in every country that touches this great river.”

Kerry has made 13 previous postwar trips to Vietnam.

On his first trip as secretary of State, he was determined to bolster the remarkable rapprochement that he encouraged as a senator in the 1990s.

In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam's capital, Kerry on Saturday met with members of the business community and entrepreneurs to talk up a trade agreement the United States is negotiating with Vietnam and nine other Asian countries.

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