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Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta Visits Vietnam

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images(CAM RAHN BAY, Vietnam) -- Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta traveled to Vietnam on Sunday, marking the first trip by an American defense secretary there since the Vietnam War ended.

Panetta visited a former U.S. Navy base in Cam Rahn Bay, and called his visit "an important symbol of how the relationship between the United States and Vietnam has improved."

Panetta said the U.S. and Vietnam have "come a long way, particularly with regard to our defense relationship."  The two countries signed an agreement in 2011 for defense cooperation, and Panetta’s two-day visit will focus on working out the details of the agreement.

Speaking aboard a navy ship docked in the bay, Panetta again laid out part of the new U.S. defense strategy he presented to a gathering of Asia's military leaders in Singapore this past weekend.

The defense secretary said the U.S. Navy would be shifting the majority of its ships to the Pacific by 2020 as part of the new U.S. strategic focus on Asia. 

Panetta said on Sunday the U.S. was "going to refocus on the Pacific because this is an area where we confront many challenges."  As part of that focus, the defense secretary is calling for continued access to harbors in countries that border the South China Sea.

The secretary of defense also stated that he hoped his visit to Vietnam would encourage efforts to locate and identify more U.S. soldiers who are missing in action.

Panetta’s visit to Vietnam is part of a week-long tour of Asia.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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