A U.S. team of specialists is due to visit Hanoi next week to discuss "how to accelerate the search" for Americans missing in action during the Vietnam War, according to a senior Foreign Ministry official.
Cu Dinh Ba, head of the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry's North American department, said the U.S. delegation would hold technical talks with officials of Hanoi's Office in Charge of Seeking Missing Personnel in the Vietnam War as part of an irregular series of exchanges on the issue.
In an interview yesterday, Ba said Vietnam was posing no conditions for continuing talks, but he made it clear that resolution of the emotional MIA issue depends on a change in Washington's "hostile policy toward Vietnam."
He also indicated that Vietnam would not agree to allow U.S. teams to excavate airplane crash sites in Vietnam unless Washington agrees to normalize relations with Hanoi. The United States has refused to open diplomatic relations with Hanoi, largely because of the December 1978 Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia.
Neighboring Laos recently agreed to allow a team of American specialists to excavate a crash site in southern Laos later this year. Of the three Indochinese countries, Laos is the only one with which the United States has maintained diplomatic relations following the Vietnam War.
Despite some familiar criticisms, Ba generally expressed optimism about future relations with the United States and indicated that Vietnam would continue to cooperate in the search for MIAs.
"The Vietnam War ended 10 years ago, and now we must look to the future," Ba said. "Sooner or later the normalization of relations will be realized because it conforms to the interests of both sides."
Ba said Vietnam had no new policy toward the United States but that "our policy is consistent. We want to look toward the future." He added, "Our door is still open. Someday the United States will have to enter it."
U.S. officials maintain that Vietnam could do more on the MIA issue and that, despite its agreement that the search is a "humanitarian issue," Hanoi tends to subordinate the talks to political considerations.
In their upcoming meeting, officials of the Honolulu-based Joint Casualty Resolution Center and Central Identification Laboratory are expected to review specific MIA cases and provide further details on locations of plane crash sites for the Vietnamese to follow up.
As of Dec. 31, the Honolulu center listed 2,483 Americans, including 42 civilians, unaccounted for in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia during the war. Of these, all but one are officially listed as presumed dead.