US Opens Diplomatic Liaison Office In Vietnam’s Capital
HANOI, Vietnam (AP) _ The United States opened its first liaison office in Vietnam since the end of the war 20 years ago, taking a step Saturday toward full diplomatic relations with its former foe.
The two countries were able to proceed with opening liaison offices in each other’s capitals after signing an agreement earlier in the day to return or pay for diplomatic properties seized when the Vietnam War ended in 1975.
James Hall, a former U.S. Army captain and veteran of the war, will head the office in Hanoi. He greeted two dozen American businessmen, reporters and others who drank champagne and toured the mostly empty nine-story glass tower.
One task of the new office will be to support efforts to learn the fate of 1,621 American servicemen listed as missing in Vietnam.
President Clinton has said Vietnam must do more to help on the MIA issue before the United States agrees to exchange ambassadors. But the decision to open liaison offices demonstrates Washington’s approval of Vietnamese efforts so far.
U.S. diplomats wouldn’t say when they thought the United States might establish full relations with communist Vietnam.
But the chances for rapid progress are slim with the Republicans controlling both houses of Congress. Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and eight other members of Congress asked Clinton to postpone the office openings. They said Vietnam still seemed unwilling to provide key information on MIAs.
U.S.-Vietnam relations began to warm when Clinton agreed in July 1993 to stop blocking Hanoi’s access to international development loans. He lifted the 19-year U.S. economic embargo against Vietnam last February, and more than 50 American companies have already set up shop here.
Hall signed the diplomatic properties agreement with Nguyen Xuan Phong, director of the Americas Department at Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry. Under the agreement, Vietnam agreed to return 10 of the 36 original U.S. buildings and pay an undisclosed amount of cash for the others, said a Vietnamese diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Hanoi took possession in Washington of the former South Vietnamese embassy building, which it plans to use as its liaison office.
By far the most famous building reverting to the Americans is their bunker-like former embassy in what used to be called Saigon. U.S. helicopters lifted Americans from its roof just hours before victorious communist troops entered the city and brought the war to a close on April 30, 1975.
The last American diplomatic office in Hanoi was a consulate that closed its doors in December 1955. The United States withdrew after refusing to recognize Ho Chi Minh’s communist government that replaced the French colonial regime in 1954.
U.S. businessmen based in Hanoi welcomed the opening of the liaison office.
``More American companies will come here because people will have confidence that business will be promoted and protected,″ said Norris Hickerson, country manager in Vietnam for Digital Equipment Corp.
Chris Runckel, Hall’s deputy, said the liaison office would be ready for business on Friday. Eleven U.S. diplomats have been assigned to Hanoi.
``Today’s the day to move in furniture,″ Hall said. ``We’ll do the flag-raising some time after Tet.″
The Vietnamese festival for Tet, the Lunar New Year, ends on Thursday.