WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton, with little more than two months remaining in his presidency, embarked Monday on an Asian journey centering on a historic visit to Vietnam to cement ties with a former wartime adversary.

Clinton's trip has at its other focus a summit of more than 20 Asian-Pacific leaders in the sultanate of Brunei. It is going ahead despite the current stalemate in the U.S. presidential election. Administration officials say it demonstrates that the nation's business is continuing without interruption.

Accompanying the president on Air Force One were his daughter, Chelsea, and mother-in-law, Dorothy Rodham. His wife, U.S. Sen.-elect Hillary Clinton, will join the president in Vietnam after attending the Wednesday funeral of Leah Rabin, wife of assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

While at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Clinton will confer with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

But the emotional highlight is certain to be Clinton's visits to Hanoi, the capital of a unified Vietnam, and to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.

The trip is the first ever to a unified Vietnam by an American president. It comes 25 years after U.S.-backed South Vietnam surrendered to North Vietnam, leaving in doubt the fate of many Americans classified as missing in action.

Clinton is keenly aware of the painful sensitivity of the issue, especially among U.S. veterans of the Vietnam War and among the families of those still missing. The issue was a central focus when he spoke at Veterans' Day ceremonies Saturday at Arlington National Cemetery.

``Our nation has sought to move forward in developing these relations in a way that both honors those who fought and suffered there, and does right by the missing and their families,'' the president said.

Noting that the remains of 283 Americans have been repatriated since he took office in 1993, Clinton said he will visit the site where U.S. and Vietnamese teams are searching for remains of Air Force Capt. Lawrence Evert, missing since his plane was shot down on Nov. 8, 1969.

``In our national memory, Vietnam was a war,'' he said. ``But Vietnam is also a country, a country emerging from almost 50 years of conflict, upheaval and isolation, and turning its face to a very different world, a country that can succeed in this new global age only if it becomes more interdependent and open to the world.''

An antiwar activist during his college years, Clinton has undertaken a cautious re-engagement with Vietnam. He lifted a trade embargo in 1994; the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi opened in 1996. And last July, after four years of negotiations, the United States and Vietnam reached agreement on allowing generally unfettered commerce for the first time since the war.