WASHINGTON — A recommendation that the United States establish diplomatic relations with Vietnam is stirring controversy even before President Clinton has made a decision on the emotional issue.
"The only business we should be doing with Vietnam is the business of accounting for our missing men," said Sen. Bob Smith (R) of New Hampshire.
Rep. Bill Richardson (D) of New Mexico, who recently visited Vietnam and received more than 100 pages of material relating to missing Americans, said that "given Vietnam's massive and recent cooperation on the MIA issue, I think it may be time to recognize them."
A congressional official said this week that Secretary of State Warren Christopher was recommending that the US establish formal diplomatic relations with the country.
The administration refused to discuss Mr. Christopher's recommendation, but one senior official confirmed that Winston Lord, assistant secretary of state for East Asia, had told Christopher that normalizing relations would encourage further cooperation from the Vietnamese on efforts to determine the fate of missing Americans.
On Capitol Hill, an official speaking on condition of anonymity said Christopher accepted Mr. Lord's recommendation and had forwarded it to Mr. Clinton.
The official said Christopher had suggested that a visit to Vietnam be included in a trip by the secretary of state to Southeast Asia in August.
"It's not yet ripe for a decision," the administration official said.
"The intent is for the president to make the decision before the end of July," said the congressional source.