US may recognise Vietnam and ease Cuba law

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The Independent Online
President Bill Clinton has reportedly bowed to pressure from the State Department, and American business, and will take the politically risky step of restoring full diplomatic relations with Vietnam. Administration sources told the Washington Post that a decision is expected in the coming weeks.

The adminstration also said it was considering new measures to ease the US ban on contacts with Cuba. Among the steps being considered are a relaxation of restrictions on travel by academics and religious personnel and a lifting of restrictions on the posting of Cuban journalists in the United States and US journalists in Cuba.

"The administration continues to review a number of possible steps that might enhance our ability to increase communications with, and provide support for, those groups in Cuba who are working for democratic change'', a State Department spokesman, Nicholas Burns, said yesterday.

He insisted, though, that: "We intend to maintain the embargo against Cuba," imposed in 1962.

If the United States decides to restore full relations with Vietnam, the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, could become the first senior US official since the early Seventies to set foot in the country later this month.

Twenty years have passed since the end of the Vietnam war - a war which even the former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, one of its prime architects, now acknowledges to have been a tragic mistake by Washington. The PoW/MIA issue, long the main stumbling block to normalised relations, is not the obstacle it was. Although 2,205 American servicemen lost in Indochina remain technically unaccounted for, the presumption is that they are dead.

The Hanoi authorities have allowed US experts to make a first-hand investigation of new allegations (like every such previous claim, categorically denied by the Vietnamese) that US prisoners were still being held at an underground prison 50 miles from the capital. But while President Clinton has praised Vietnam for the help it is giving, Mr Christopher believes that full diplomatic recognition would permit co-operation to be extended even further.

Vietnam itself wants normalisation, as do US businessmen anxious not to be squeezed out of one of the largest potential markets in Asia. The problem remains Mr Clinton's draft avoidance, which caused damage during the 1992 campaign. As far as his advisers are concerned, any mention of his name and Vietnam in the same breath is to be avoided.

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