Top-Level Americans Arrive to Press For MIA Results
HANOI, Vietnam (AP) _ With improved economic ties at stake, the highest level U.S. delegation to visit Hanoi since the Vietnam War arrived Thursday to assess official cooperation in the search for missing U.S. servicemen.
Winston Lord, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, brought a 22-member delegation to Hanoi for three days of talks with Vietnamese leaders on the issue of 2,253 Americans still officially listed as missing from the war.
″We’re here on a very serious mission, and that’s about all I can say right now,″ Lord told reporters.
President Clinton announced the trip July 2, the same day he made public his decision to unblock International Monetary Fund loans to Vietnam. The United States had vetoed such loans as part of an economic embargo it has maintained against Vietnam since the Communist north took over the south in 1975.
But Clinton said any improvement in U.S.-Vietnamese relations was contingent on progress of the missing servicement issue, and that sending such a high-level delegation conveyed ″a clear message″ of American concern.
The delegation included co-leaders Hershel Gober, deputy secretary of veterans affairs, and Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Ryan, assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as senior officials of four private veterans organizations.
″This is the highest-level delegation, with the most wide-ranging composition, from the U.S. ... ever visiting Vietnam,″ said Ho The Lan, an official spokeswoman for the Vietnamese government.
Clinton must decide by Sept. 14 whether to renew the embargo against Vietnam for another year. This week’s visit is widely seen as crucial to that decision.
Vietnam’s deputy foreign minister, Le Mai, who greeted the delegates, told reporters that he hoped their visit would serve to ″push ahead″ a resolution of the MIA issue and improve relations between the United States and Vietnam.
″I think the important thing is that one should work together in a very cooperative spirit,″ Mai said.
David Givans, a representative of Disabled American Veterans - one of the veterans groups represented in the delegation - called the trip an unprecedented opportunity for ex-soldiers to monitor progress of the probe for missing servicemen.
″There definitely have been steps made we’re pleased with, but many questions remain,″ he said,
The delegates arrived here less than a week after Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., spent four days in northern Vietnam investigating reports of living American prisoners left behind after the war.
Although Smith turned up no evidence that Vietnam held any such prisoners, he said Tuesday in Washington that the results of his investigation lent credibility to such claims.