Waldheim draws from the Thai-Viet diplomatic well -- but comes up dry

The efforts by UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim to mediate the increasingly bitter dispute between Thailand and Vietnam appear to have produced no major results.

The gap between heavily armed Vietnam and a suspicious noncommunist Southeast Asia seems as wide as ever. Indeed, the UN official ended up caught in and perhaps tarnished by the emotional propaganda battle between Thailand and Vietnam.

That seems of be the outcome of the fourday mission of personal diplomacy by Mr. Waldheim. Despite his visits to Hanoi and Bangkok, each side adamantly rejected the peace proposals of the other. Little sign of common ground appeared -- except the stated willingness by both to keep talking.

As before, the chief sticking point was Cambodia (Kampuchea). Thailand wants Vietnamese troops withdrawn, and looks on Vietnam's proposal for a UN-supervised demilitarized zone on both sides of the Thai- Cambodian border as a way of sidestepping the issue. Thailand insists that the demilitarized zone be restricted to the Cambodian side, although it would permit UN observers on Thai territory.

Vietnam calls for direct or indirect talks between Thailand and the Vietnamese-dominated Heng Samrin government in Phnom Penh. But Thai officials are concerned this would build the Phnom Penh government's prestige, reduce international pressure for a Vietnamese troop withdrawal, and strengthen the Phnom Penh regime's claim to represent Cambodia at the UN. (The General Assembly still recognizes the ousted Chinese- backed Khmer Rouge as Cambodia's government.)

After a meeting with Thailand's Foreign Minister Siddhi Savetsila, Mr. Waldheim told reporters UN auspices could be used as an intermediary for such talks, a move apparently favored by Vietnam.

In a dinner speech opposing Vietnam's proposals, Thai Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda insisted Vietnam's plan was diversionary "camouflage" designed to obscure the issue of Vietnamese military withdrawal from Cambodia.

But perhaps it is significant he did not mention the proposal for talks between Thailand and the Phnom Penh government under UN auspices. The Thai failure to openly denounce this proposal is the one sign of progress optimists can point to as a result of the Waldheim mission.

Otherwise Vietnam and Thailand, backed by the other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Malaysia, singapore, the Philippines, and Indonesia), appeared as far apart as ever.

In Thai eyes, the Waldheim mission appeared to compromise the Secretary-General's impartiality and to give Vietnam's top communist Party leader Le Duan joined the discussions. analysts here said his apparance with a visiting noncommunist dignitary was unprecedented.

Optimists could call the visit a sign of Vietnam's sincerity. But skeptics called it a propaganda gesture exploiting the Secretary- General's presence. Mr. Waldheim hardly pleased the Thais when he said of the vietnamese: "I think they really want to solve the problems." He described them as "openminded and flexible" in their talks.

Thailand's prime minister Thanat Khoman said Mr. Waldheim was trying to persuade Thailand to accept Vietnam's proposals, while failing to seek a solution based on a General Assembly call for a Vietnamese troop withdrawal from Cambodia.

Nevertheless, Thai Foreign Minister Siddhideclared the door still open for "reasonable proposals" from Hanoi.

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