U.S.-Vietnam Relations and the Security of Southeast Asia

Courtesy Reuters

The Carter Administration's policy concerning the normalization of relations with Vietnam has grown increasingly enigmatic. In the early months of the new Administration, there seemed to be ample evidence of a firm commitment to the rapid normalization of relations. The dispatch of the Woodcock mission to Hanoi and, in May 1977, the initiation of discussions with the Vietnamese in Paris seemed to foreshadow the early establishment of ties with Hanoi. The United States dropped its opposition to Vietnam's entry into the United Nations and pledged to end its trade embargo once diplomatic relations had been established. The Vietnamese promised to intensify efforts to provide an accounting of Americans listed as missing-in-action (MIA) in the war, and Hanoi's negotiator went out of his way to say that Vietnam was asking the United States not for "war reparations" but for "contributions" to the reconstruction of the country. Broadcasts over Radio Hanoi indicated that the government was in fact preparing the populace for normalization of relations with the United States and for a stepped-up effort to gather information about the American MIA's. Both sides appeared to share the objective of an early normalization of relations.

But the mood of optimism was shattered within hours of the Paris meeting's conclusion when the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to bar the government from negotiating "reparations, aid or any other form of payment" to Vietnam. Subsequent votes in the House reaffirmed the existence of strong opposition to any form of aid and even to a lifting of the trade embargo. Positions of both the Vietnamese and U.S. governments hardened. The Vietnamese made it clear they would not budge from their view that U.S. "contributions to healing the wounds of war and to postwar reconstruction" were "an undeniable obligation," while the Carter Administration indicated that the aid requested by Hanoi was out of the question. The Paris negotiations, which resumed in June in a gloomy atmosphere, reached an impasse over the aid issue; another meeting,

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