Vessey Doubts Document on US POWs

WHITE House envoy Gen. John Vessey yesterday ended talks with Vietnam on a disputed Russian document about the number of United States prisoners-of-war held by Hanoi and said he had doubts about its authenticity.

Asked at a news conference if he had more doubts about the document than he had when he came here Sunday to find whether it was genuine, Vessey replied simply: "Yes."

The Vietnamese gave him several papers which he said would shed light on the Russian document once they had been analyzed by US experts. General Vessey said he was heading straight back to Washington to report to President Clinton.

The document had been reported to be a Soviet Communist Party translation of a North Vietnamese Communist Party Politburo briefing saying Hanoi held 1,205 American prisoners in 1972, when it was telling the world it had 368.

The paper, implying Vietnamese duplicity on a highly sensitive issue in Washington, immediately strained relations between the two former enemies at a time when they were warming considerably.

Vessey said he accepted a denial by the alleged source of the prisoner numbers, retired General Tran Van Quang, that he was the author of any such document.

During an hour-long meeting yesterday, Quang told him he was not in the Army headquarters post attributed to him at the time, and that he was a combat unit commander in the field and did not visit Hanoi in 1972 until months after the date of the alleged report.

"I don't think one can draw conclusions about the document based simply on General Quang's statement," Vessey told the news conference.

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