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Christopher Sees Vietnam Trip 'Sometime in Future' : Diplomacy: Secretary of state says U.S. not ready for broader moves to upgrade Hanoi ties. He is visiting Asia.


HONOLULU — Secretary of State Warren Christopher on Saturday held out the prospect that he may visit Vietnam in what would be a dramatic step toward normalization of U.S. relations with the Hanoi government.

Talking to reporters at the U.S. Pacific Command here, Christopher suggested that only problems of logistics had prevented him from visiting Hanoi on his current trip to Asia, which began Friday.

"I hope to go there sometime in the future," he said. "There just was not time on this trip."

But Christopher also made it plain that the Clinton Administration is not ready for broader moves toward upgrading ties with Hanoi--even as other U.S. officials said Vietnam seems to want to quicken the pace of normalization.

Last month, the Administration lifted the longstanding U.S. trade embargo against Hanoi. That action opened the way for U.S. businesses to trade and invest in Vietnam and for Vietnam to gain access to American capital, management and technology.

Some analysts believe the Administration is now moving cautiously with Vietnam to avoid antagonizing China, whose developing economic and military power grows ever larger in U.S. policy considerations toward Asia.

Vietnam and China have had contentious relations throughout their history and last went to war in 1979. China might view rapidly improving relations between Washington and Hanoi as a move directed against Beijing.

But Christopher denied that China was a factor in U.S. policy calculations toward Vietnam. "We'll make an independent judgment (on moves toward normalizing relations)," he said.

Vietnamese officials reportedly wanted the secretary of state to stop in Hanoi during his current tour of Asia, which will take him to Australia, Japan, China and Vladivostok, Russia.

Christopher could well make the Vietnam visit this summer, when he is scheduled to travel to Asia for the annual meetings of the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations. Those meetings will take place in Bangkok, Thailand, a customary staging point for trips to Vietnam.

President Clinton is also scheduled to travel to Southeast Asia, shortly after the midterm congressional elections in November, and there has been some speculation that even he might visit Hanoi.

Whether the President does so, however, would depend not only on progress in U.S.-Vietnamese relations but on whether Clinton's political advisers decide it is to his advantage to make such a trip. Clinton's successful efforts to avoid being drafted during the Vietnam War were used against him during his 1992 presidential campaign.

In the month since the Administration lifted the trade embargo, U.S. and Vietnamese officials have moved toward a new dialogue on human rights issues and toward settling some of the outstanding claims and financial disputes left over from the end of the war.

Nevertheless, the Administration's reluctance to move too quickly with Hanoi was evident Saturday in Christopher's visit to Honolulu.

The secretary of state chose to highlight the U.S. military laboratory and facilities that are working to identify the remains of some of the 2,234 Americans still listed as missing in action in Vietnam.

Both the George Bush Administration and the Clinton Administration delayed lifting the trade embargo because they wanted more cooperation from Vietnam in accounting for MIAs.

And although Clinton said he was satisfied with Vietnam's efforts when he lifted the trade embargo, Christopher emphasized Saturday that the Administration still insists on "continuing cooperation" on the MIAs.

The United States is now spending about $19 million a year for the efforts of the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting of the Vietnam MIAs, which is made up of 182 people at the U.S. Pacific Command headquarters in Honolulu.

Christopher pointed out that the remains of 67 Americans were identified last year and that 15 more were identified in February. In all, the remains of 349 Americans have been identified.

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