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The wrong map.

George Bush's "new world order" appears to be tolerant of a murderous Iraqi regime barely two months after its decisive defeat. Yet it continues to isolate Vietnam a full sixteen years after that April day in 1975 when the last U.S. troops pulled out of Saigon.

Although Bush marked victory over Iraq by delivering a ringing post-mortem on the hated "Vietnam syndrome," this has had remarkably little bearing on U.S. policy toward Vietnam. In Washington the Vietnam syndrome is thriving, and the U.S. economic and diplomatic embargo of Vietnam maintains its steel grip.

What then of the high-level talks that Washington has been pursuing with Hanoi, most recently in New York on April 9 at the State Department's request? Assistant Secretary of State Richard Solomon presented Vietnam's ambassador to the United Nations, Trinh Xuan Lang, with a detailed four-phase plan aimed at settling the bitter Cambodian civil war as the basis for normalizing relations with Vietnam. For the first time the Administration has outlined what it calls a "road map" of the steps Vietnam and Cambodia must take in exchange for full diplomatic recognition, an end to the trade embargo and the resumption of development loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Before any progress can be made, Hanoi must first agree to the Cambodian peace accord that the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council drafted last year. It must also pressure its allies in Phnom Penh to reach the same conclusion. Of course, this is exactly the trouble. Hanoi has been highly skeptical of the U.N. plan for Cambodia, fearing it could return the Khmer Rouge to power. Vietnam kept its troops in Cambodia for eleven years to prevent that, forfeiting world favor, and is not about to fall prey to a document it regards as a Trojan horse.

Not surprisingly, Vietnam quickly dismissed the U.S. "road map" because of its insistence on linkage to a Cambodian settlement. The United States should recognize Hanoi without conditions, Ho The Lan, a Vietnamese Foreign Ministry official, said on April 15. "Normalization of U.S.-Vietnam ties will facilitate their bilateral cooperation in settling the Cambodian question:' she predicted.

Hanoi also reiterated its claim that it wields no influence over Phnom Penh and denied U.S. charges that large numbers of Vietnamese troops remain in Cambodia eighteen months after their official withdrawal. Vietnam may well have more say in Cambodia than it admits, but the United States is wrong to hold Vietnam hostage over this. What the Administration refuses to see-or perhaps sees all too well-is that dictating Cambodian policy to the Vietnamese will surely fail. "There is no change in our basic policy," a senior Administration official admitted in a discussion of the road map proposal. As long as Washington continues to link Vietnam to Cambodia, there will be no shift in Hanoi's policy either.

Some members of Congress, including leading Republicans, are growing impatient with the Administration's obtuseness. So are major U.S. business interests, which see their competitors taking advantage of the trade opportunities offered by Vietnam's recent market-oriented reforms. Support is building among lawmakers for Washington to scrap the trade embargo and recognize Vietnam, although such a move is ultimately a presidential decision.

The White House's road map was timed to mollify this opposition and attempt to gain the upper hand. A Senate Foreign Relations Committee adviser observed, " It's calculated to achieve maximum domestic easing of Congressional pressure while giving away as little as possible."

It also is no coincidence that Assistant Secretary Solomon met with the Vietnamese only a day before testifying at Congressional hearings on Cambodia. Solomon informed wary legislators that the Administration wants another $25 million in nonlethal aid this fiscal year to support the two nonCommunist resistance groups fighting the Phnom Penh government along with the Khmer Rouge.

While the White House and Congress trade rhetoric, any future Vietnamese cooperation on Cambodia may be in jeopardy. Vietnamese Communist Party members are slated to convene their seventh party congress in Hanoi this June. The previous session, in 1986, brought economic reforms that achieved limited success, but some conservative party members fear this opening to the West. Should they wrest control from more reform-minded officials, Vietnam could easily change course.

President Bush now has a unique opportunity to give Vietnamese reformers a boost and prove that his "new world order" is magnanimous. Washington should officially unlink Vietnam from Cambodia and move now to establish diplomatic relations with Hanoi. Vietnam's cooperation so far on both Cambodia and the 2,200 Americans missing since the end of the Vietnam War should be sufficient evidence of good faith. This would upset many who still believe that Vietnam will never deserve redemption, but it could deliver stability to this tormented region of the world.

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Title Annotation:US policy toward Vietnam
Author:Burton, Jonathan
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:editorial
Date:May 6, 1991
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