WASHINGTON - US Secretary of State John Kerry is to make his first visit to the Philippines since taking office to see first-hand the damage left by last month's typhoon, and will also tour Vietnam where he fought during the war.
Kerry's next trip from December 11 to 18 will start on Wednesday, his 70th birthday, when he flies to Israel and Ramallah.
But he will then travel to Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, before heading to Manila, and the storm-hit city of Tacloban, a US official said Monday.
Since becoming the top US diplomat in February, Kerry has dreamed of returning once again to the country where his political activism was forged in the horrors of the Vietnam War.
He had also planned to visit the Philippines back in October, but the trip had to be cancelled at the last minute as Tropical Storm Nari bore down on the Southeast Asian nation.
"Within the Asia-Pacific rebalance, Southeast Asia holds special importance, and the secretary's travel to Vietnam and the Philippines demonstrates the enduring US commitment... to the region," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
It will be Kerry's fourth trip to Asia while in office.
In Ho Chi Minh, the city once known as Saigon which fell to the communist North Vietnam forces in April 1975, Kerry will "underscore the growth of our bilateral trade relationship and the empowering role of education."
He would also visit the Mekong Delta to show how "Americans and Vietnamese can work together on critical issues such as climate change and renewable energy," Psaki said.
During the war, Kerry served with the US Navy as a naval lieutenant and Swift Boat skipper patrolling the rivers of the Mekong Delta, for which he was decorated with three Purple Hearts.
It was on his return that Kerry became a fierce campaigner against the war.
"How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" he agonized in a 1971 Senate hearing.
Kerry will also hold talks with senior Vietnamese leaders in Hanoi, before travelling on to long-time US ally the Philippines, still struggling to recover after Typhoon Hiayan hit on November 8.
The typhoon swept through the nation's central islands, leaving more than 7,500 dead or missing and devastating whole towns including popular hotels, beach resorts, surfing and dive sites.
After talks in Manila, Kerry plans to tour the storm-hit city of Tacloban "to witness first-hand the recovery efforts that are taking place there and discuss how the United States to continue to contribute to the relief and reconstruction work," Psaki said.