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Draft issue a worry of Bill Clinton’s Vietnam trip

June 6, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — As Bill Clinton prepared for the first trip by a U.S. president to Vietnam since the war, White House advisers worried about placating veterans’ groups and deflecting questions about how Clinton steered clear of the Vietnam War as a young man, newly released records show.

Clinton embarked on the politically loaded trip near the end of his presidency, in November 2000, capping his efforts to transform relations with Vietnam 25 years after the conflict ended in U.S. withdrawal.

Clinton White House documents released by the National Archives on Friday included a draft memo from national security adviser Samuel Berger and presidential aide Stephanie Streett suggesting to Clinton on how to handle renewed questions about why he wasn’t drafted for the war. The emotionally charged issue lingered from his first presidential race in 1992.

The advisers recommended that Clinton respond by saying that people of good faith had different views on the war and made different decisions at the time. And, they said, he should emphasize that, “This trip is not about me personally. It is about our interests as a country.”

They also warned that veterans’ groups would be watching closely to see if Clinton were using the trip “as a ‘healing mission’ or an effort to lock in your place in history.”

The document cautions against any hint of a national apology to Vietnam or talk of reparations.

“Any mention of an apology will be seen as a betrayal by those who served,” the draft memo says. “Any mention of reparations will be seized by the Vietnamese government and their demands will be endless.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton accompanied Bill Clinton to Vietnam as first lady; a decade later she would return as secretary of state.

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