Following a two-month delay, US and Vietnamese negotiators are resuming the search for information about US servicemen unaccounted for since the end of the Vietnam war. US officials cling to cautious hopes that this final, painful chapter on America's military involvement in Indochina may soon be closed. Hanoi has pledged to try to settle the matter within two years.
In a round of meetings starting next week in Hanoi, technical experts from the United States and Vietnam will seek to speed up an investigation into the cases of some of the 1,792 Americans in Vietnam, all but one of whom are officially presumed dead. For symbolic reasons, one is still listed as ``missing in action.''
The talks were suspended by Vietnam in April to protest the US air attack on Libya. The action drew strong criticism from Reagan officials who protested Hanoi's linking of political and humanitarian concerns.
In what State and Defense Department officials regarded as a breakthrough in the 10-year effort to account for the missing Americans, Hanoi agreed last July to authorize a series of joint excavations of crash and grave sites in Vietnam. The first operation, conducted in November just north of Hanoi where a US B-52 bomber crashed in 1972, produced only fragmentary remains.
``The cooperation was excellent; what we actually found was disappointing,'' says Anne Mills Griffiths, executive director of the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia.
In next week's meetings, the two sides are expected to resume planning for other joint excavations.
US negotiators may also press their Vietnamese counterparts on ``discrepancy cases'' involving Americans who have been identified in photos as being held captive in Vietnam but who were not returned after the war.
In addition, the US may also be looking for more information on more than 800 reported sightings of Americans in Indochina. Most have been discounted as either mistaken or as involving Americans already accounted for. But the US will seek to clear up the 117 cases that are still under investigation.
Officials at State Department and Pentagon are guarded but hopeful regarding the outlook for next week's meetings. ``There are encouraging signs that things are moving forward faster,'' an official says.