HANOI — The highest-level U.S. delegation to visit Vietnam since the war ended in 1975 met officials here for three hours Monday to discuss ways to speed up the search for Americans still listed as missing in action. Neither side disclosed details of the session.
Vietnam has promised to resolve the MIA issue within two years. It is believed that details of steps to be taken are a major item on the agenda.
Washington lists more than 2,400 Americans as missing in action in Indochina, 1,797 of them in Vietnam. The rest are listed as missing in Cambodia and Laos.
After the meeting, the head of the American delegation, Assistant Defense Secretary Richard L. Armitage, told reporters: "I'll just say that both sides engaged in an in-depth discussion of all aspects of the American prisoner of war-missing in action issue, to include how we might accelerate progress toward the resolution of this issue."
Deputy Foreign Minister Hoang Bich Son, who headed the Vietnamese team, said: "I agree with Mr. Armitage. Neither side wants to say more now."
Normalization of Ties
Vietnamese officials insist that they regard the whereabouts of the MIAs as a humanitarian issue, but they also seek normalization of diplomatic ties with the United States, which Washington says is not possible while Hanoi's troops remain in Cambodia.
Vietnam ousted the Communist Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia in January, 1979, and set up a pro-Hanoi government.
Vo Dong Giang, minister of state for foreign affairs, told reporters on Monday while the talks were under way:
"I would say there has been some progress, some evolution of relations, even though the U.S. side says that relations are limited to the MIAs.
"Vietnam pursues its consistent line of not using the search for MIAs as a bargaining chip toward normalization or improvement of relations."
'Maybe Yes, Maybe No'
When asked if ties would be forthcoming, he replied, "Maybe yes, maybe no."
Giang told Hanoi-based correspondents on Saturday that Hanoi would insist on setting up a liaison mission in Washington if the United States established a permanent MIA office in Hanoi.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Paul D. Wolfowitz, a member of the delegation, told a U.S. congressional committee in mid-1985 that the United States would consider the question of a permanent presence in Hanoi only if Vietnam's cooperation on the MIA issue "increased significantly."
"A presence of this type would of course be entirely separate from the question of diplomatic relations," Wolfowitz said.
The American delegation is scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach today before returning to Bangkok, Thailand.
The Vietnamese had first proposed that the Americans also visit today a site where a U.S. warplane crashed and a building in Hanoi where an American liaison office would be located. Vietnamese officials said the American side declined to make the visits.