'Today I am lifting the trade embargo against Vietnam because I am absolutely convinced it offers us the best way to resolve the fate of those who remain missing and about whom we are not sure,' Mr Clinton said at a White House ceremony.
The President has moved cautiously because of fears of reawakening controversy over his opposition to the Vietnam war and his actions in avoiding the draft. But last week the Senate gave him political cover by voting 62-38 to urge him to end the embargo. Some veterans and MIA groups still oppose this on the grounds that US survivors may still be hidden in the Vietnamese jungle.
The US has also forced Vietnam to make immense efforts to find the remains of missing Americans, the cost of each body recovered reportedly being some dollars 1.7m (pounds 1.1m). The State Department says that normalising diplomatic relations with Vietnam is out of the question for the moment. The US introduced trade sanctions against North Vietnam in 1964 and to the whole country in 1975.