MIA-POW ISSUE SLOWS U.S.- VIETNAM ACCORD
Byline: Nate Thayer Associated Press
The United States will not establish diplomatic ties with Vietnam until the issue of Americans missing there is resolved and a Cambodian peace accord is signed, a U.S. official said Sunday.
The official, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Solomon, is in Bangkok for discussions with Vietnamese Deputy Foreign Minister Le Mai on the diplomatic issue. The two are to meet on Tuesday.
Vietnamese officials are expected to argue that recent progress toward a peace settlement in Cambodia makes this issue no longer relevant to the question of U.S.-Vietnamese relations.
But Solomon, in an interview, said Washington would not change its long-held position.
"The three primary issues for normalization are a solution to the Cambodian problem, the MIA-POW issue and the people still held in re-education camps in Vietnam," he said. MIA-POW refers to servicemen in the Vietnam War who are listed as missing in action and prisoners of war.
The recent release of a grainy photo that purportedly shows Americans still held captive in Indochina has renewed the debate on 2,274 Americans unaccounted for from the wars in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
Meanwhile Sunday, Senate Republican leader Bob Dole urged President Bush to appoint a presidential commission to investigate whether the three missing Americans are still alive in Southeast Asia.
Appearing on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press" in Washington, D.C., Dole was asked about a statement Friday by National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft that he is convinced no Americans missing from the Vietnam conflict are still living.
"I don't know, and I don't think Brent Scowcroft knows," Dole said. "I think what we should do, and what I would like to see happen this week, is for the President to say, 'I'm going to have a presidential commission. We are going to take another look.'"
"Let's raise this to the highest level to see if we can't address it," the Kansas senator said. "That might in effect help some of the families who are distressed."
In addition, Dole said, "We might be able to weed out some of these people who, I think, have got something pretty good going here. They indicate to families that they can find their sons or husbands. A lot of money is being spent."
American officials say they have serious doubts about the authenticity of the photo, but a vocal lobby in the United States contends that the Vietnamese continue to hold American prisoners.
Kenneth Quinn, a deputy assistant secretary of state, traveled to Vietnam and Laos last week to investigate the photo.
The third issue on the American agenda is the imprisonment of former officials of the pro-American government in re-education camps. Washington has long criticized this, but most of the former officials reportedly have been released.
A senior U.S. government official familiar with Quinn's talks in Hanoi said the Vietnamese were worried that the purported MIA photo would damage efforts to normalize relations.
Now the Vietnamese are going out of their way to open up as never before and this could make it easier to resolve the MIA issue, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Before the photo was released, analysts said Vietnamese-U.S. relations were improving, and hopes were high for peace in Cambodia and progress on the MIA issue.
The United States and Vietnam now are conducting their 14th joint search for Americans missing in Vietnam. On Thursday the United States is to open an MIA liaison office in Hanoi.