Progress in Vietnam

THE anguish of the Vietnam War persists for both Americans and Vietnamese. But recent developments in the effort to satisfy Washington's questions about servicemen listed as missing in action (MIAs) indicate that matters may have reached a significant turning point.

US Sens. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts, Tom Daschle (D) of South Dakota, and Hank Brown (R) of Colorado, members of the Senate Select Committee on POW-MIA affairs, recently returned from Vietnam, where they were permitted to see documents and visit areas not previously accessible to Americans.

Hanoi is eager for the 17-year-old US trade embargo to end, and its officials obviously feel that if they are more forthcoming with information about MIAs, Washington will be more inclined to ease trade barriers.

Several well-informed sources in the US urge such rapprochement. They note that Vietnam has high unemployment, which renewed trade with America could help alleviate. It is also noted that, though Vietnam is ideologically communist, it is inclining toward a market economy.

American businesses, eager to find new markets or reestablish old ones, tend to favor resumption of trade with Vietnam. And President Bush has indicated that he would be responsive to Vietnam's cooperation in the effort to account for MIAs.

President-elect Clinton is considered more likely to take such steps, but so far he has not made his inclinations public.

Clearly, these factors point to an accommodation between Hanoi and Washington some time after the Clinton administration is installed. The new president is not likely to rush the process. Getting it to the present point has been an arduous, often frustrating experience.

Though the Hanoi-Washington relationship is improving, the US should not close the book on the MIA situation until every reasonable effort to establish the whereabouts of the missing has been carried to a logical end.

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