HANOI — Secretary of State John F. Kerry returned to Vietnam on Thursday for his fourth and final visit as the top US diplomat, his presence embodying the transformation of two countries from enemies to partners.
It is the final trip overseas for the most traveled secretary of state in US history, with his latest flight pushing him just past 1.4 million miles.
After two days in Vietnam, Kerry will go to Paris for a Middle East peace conference of foreign ministers and then to London for dinner with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. He will end the trip at an economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, then return to Washington with barely a day and half left to savor what he has characterized as the job of a lifetime.
The Vietnam stop is particularly meaningful for Kerry, aides said. His fate has been linked to this country for almost 50 years, since he first arrived in 1968 as a young Navy lieutenant battling communist insurgents.
When Kerry was a US senator from Massachusetts, he and Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, who was shot down over Hanoi as a Navy pilot and held as a prisoner of war, played a central role in normalizing relations between the United States and Vietnam.
In Vietnam at the close of his career in public office, Kerry will meet with government and ruling Communist Party officials and review the arc of the bilateral relationship in a policy speech. The capstone will be a riverboat trip in the Mekong Delta, where he captained a Swift Boat patrol vessel during the Vietnam War. Aides said he will go to the spot in the river in Ca Mau province where he earned a Silver Star.
The United States has been providing aid to help maintain the health of the river so it can continue as an economic engine of the region. It is being undermined by hydroelectric dams upriver and the impact of climate change — an issue to which Kerry is expected to devote much of his post-government life.
He is to meet Friday morning with Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son. Aides traveling with Kerry say that among the topics they will discuss are climate change, North Korea, and China’s actions in the South China Sea — all issues that will fall to the new administration starting Jan. 20.