Vietnam War POW/MIA Issue - Normalization With Vietnam

Normalization With Vietnam

The actions of the committee were designed to allow for improved ties between the U.S. and Vietnam, for which the unresolved fate of American MIAs had long been a sticking point. The belief by Americans from a few years earlier that live prisoners still existed had mostly passed; in the words of Time magazine, "most people seemed resigned to the idea that the fortunes of war are bound to leave a few mysteries." In 1994 the Senate passed a resolution, sponsored by Kerry and McCain, that called for an end to the existing trade embargo against Vietnam; it was intended to pave the way for normalization.

When President Bill Clinton lifted the trade embargo on February 3, 1994, he stated:

I have made the judgment that the best way to ensure cooperation from Vietnam and to continue getting the information Americans want on POWs and MIAs is to end the trade embargo. I've also decided to establish a liaison office in Vietnam to provide services for Americans there and help us to pursue a human rights dialogue with the Vietnamese government. I want to be clear; These actions do not constitute a normalization of our relationships. Before that happens, we must have more progress, more cooperation and more answers. Toward that end, this spring I will send another high-level U.S. delegation to Vietnam to continue the search for remains and for documents.

In response, columnist Dan Rather wrote the following:

In an obvious attempt to blunt criticism, President Clinton actually characterized lifting the embargo as creating the best opportunity to get the true story of what happened to America's missing. This was especially ill-advised. Because it was obvious that lifting the embargo wasn't designed to resolve doubts about the fate of the missing. It was designed to make money. It was a trade initiative, plain and simple. The people least likely to mistake it for anything else were the families of America's missing.

In 1995, President Bill Clinton normalized diplomatic relations with the country of Vietnam, with McCain's and Kerry's visible support during the announcement giving Clinton, who came of age during Vietnam but did not serve in the military, some political cover.

During his time on the committee and afterward, McCain was vilified as a fraud, traitor, or "Manchurian Candidate" by many of the POW/MIA activists who believed in live prisoners. McCain's high profile on the Vietnam issue also cost him the friendship of some fellow former POWs; In return, McCain continued to attack those he saw as profiteers exploiting the families of those missing in action.

In the 1990s, the Joint Task Force–Full Accounting in conjunction with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command was established to focus on achieving the fullest possible accounting of Americans missing from the Vietnam War. It has interviewed thousands of witnesses regarding the fate of missing Americans, and conducts ten missions per year in Southeast Asia to search for remains of those still listed as missing.

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