Vietnam announced yesterday that it will recall Ambassador to the United Nations Dinh Ba Thi, two days after the Vietnamese mission in New York said he would defy a U.S. order to leave the country.
A Foreign Ministry official in Hanoi said Thai was ordered home "because the U.S. government was hindering the activities of the Vietnamese U.N. chief."
State Department spokesman Charles Sharino said that while there had been no official communication on Thi's recall. "We welcome it. We have been assuming all along that he would be leaving."
"We hope this will not be a setback to normalization talks" with the Vietnamese taking place sporadically in Paris, Shapiro added. Vietnam said, however, that normalization efforts have been affected and the United States bears "full responsibility."
Thi was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the case that saw a U.S. Information Agency official in Washington, Ronald L. Humphrey, charged last Tuesday with spying for Vietnam. The indictments indicated that secret cables allegedly taken by Humphrey were passed to the Vietnamese in New York and Paris.
The U.S. mission at the United Nations, in a vote to the Vietnamese, then ordered Thi to leave. The action was taken under a 1947 agreement establishing the right of the United States, as the host nation, to order out members of U.N. mission "who have abused their privileges.?
On Friday, Thi's office not only said he would stay on but asked for support of other U.N. members. Diplomats from several Communist countries met and were expected to argue before U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim that the United States had not made a firm case against Thi.
This was the first case of an ambassador to the United Nations being ordered out, although the United States had expelled several lower-ranking diplomats allegedly involved in spy cases.
A U.S. official, acknowledging that Humphrey and Vietnamese David Truong, also under indictment, have not been convicted, pointed out that the United States has not had to await convictions in past cases of expulsion, Humphrey and Truong have pleaded innocent to the charges.
A spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations said Waldheim "was kept informed" of the actions taken. The spokesman refused to detail the nature of the information, however. By one account, Waldheim was presented with a virtual fait accompli.
It was not clear how Thi's recall would affect communist plans for a protest to Waldheim or whether the U.N. Committee on Relations With the Host Country - which Thi had requested to meet - would hold hearings.
Thi was not available for comment yesterday and it was not known when he will leave. The State Department spokesman said that "the note that we sent said he was to leave promptly. That means enough time to get his affairs in order and pack his bags."
As for the impact on U.S.-Vietnamese talks aimed at normalization of relations, the U.S. spokesman during the last round of conversations in Paris, Jack Cannon, recalled that a joint communique on Dec. 22 said those talks had been "useful" and would resume at a mutually convenient date.
Cannon said no initiative had been taken on fixing another date to meet, but no further meeting was expected for several months. "As far as we're concerned, it is up to them," he said.
A Vietnamese note on Saturday protesting the action against Thi said:
"The act of the U.S. government proved eloquently that the words reiterated by the Carter administration, that it looks toward the future and desires to normalize relations with Vietnam, are only empty words."
Vice Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach said at a press conference yesterday that "the U.S. government . . . must bear full responsibility for the consequence of its actions."
Since the United States pulled out of South Vietnam in 1975 and the country was forcibly united under the Hanoi government, the U.S. government has keyed moves toward normal relations to the flow of information on American soldiers lost in the Vietnamese war.
Initially, the United States vetoed Vietnamese membership in the United Nations but last year the Carter administration dropped objections to the application and declared its desire for normalizaiton. Thi, who had served in the Paris peace talks and as an observer at the United Nations, was named U.N. ambassador at that time.
While Vietnam has cooperated on the return of the remains of some missing Americans, it has insisted that the United States fulfill promises made during the peace talks to provide economic aid. The Nixon administration said those promises were made meaningless by a later Vietnamese offensive and the U.S. Congress had voiced unwillingness to provide aid as a condition to normal relations with Vietnam.