THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL
February 3, 1994
The Briefing Room
3:53 P.M. EST
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is all on BACKGROUND, and embargoed until 5:00 p.m.
Q I thought you were lifting the embargo. (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The one that counts is on until 5:00 p.m.
The President made a decision at about 12:30 p.m. today on Vietnam. After all the speculation, we wanted to get it right out, and, therefore, he will be announcing it at 5:00 p.m. this afternoon.
The first act after he made the decision was to call the leaders of veterans organizations, invited them in for a meeting with the President, which took place this afternoon. He met with them about 2:30 p.m. I could give you the list of those who were there if you wish now.
Larry Rivers, the VFW; John Summer of the American Legion; Donald Hearon of Am-Vets; Arthur Wilson of the AV; Paul Egan of the Vietnam Veterans of America; Anne Mills-Griffiths was invited. It was a last-minute thing and she apparently wasn't able to make it. Anyway, he had a meeting with them. I can talk about that later if you want it.
The decision, in essence -- and the others will speak about it more -- is, first of all, he has decided that we should lift the trade embargo against Vietnam; and second, has authorized the establishment of liaison offices in Hanoi and Washington.
Let me emphasize again -- and you have heard this before -- that the sole criterion that the President used in making this decision, as in previous decisions on Vietnam, was the goal of achieving all the progress possible on accounting for the Americans missing in Vietnam. At every meeting that we were at during recent weeks and previously, that was the sole criterion that we used. And I know that that is the sole criterion the President has used in his thinking about this.
His decision reflects the results that have been achieved in this regard over the past year and in recent weeks, and more importantly, it reflects his and his advisors' judgment as to how best we can achieve further progress in the coming months.
As a part of that, this spring, the President will send back out again the delegation of Herschel Gober and Win Lord and General Mike Ryan to Vietnam to pursue further progress. He has
invited, again, the leaders of veterans organizations and the families to accompany that delegation.
In the meeting with the leaders of the veterans organizations, the President emphasized his continuing commitment on this issue, and he and the veterans leaders agreed that they will continue to work together. The President was very, very strong in his personal commitment on this issue.
I'm sure there's going to be a lot more questions here, but why don't we go on to my colleague.
Q Could you just say whether -- was Hanoi immediately informed?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We've been in touch with Vietnamese representatives this afternoon.
Q From here?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: From the State Department.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What I would like to do is to review in considerable detail the progress that the Clinton administration has achieved in the past year on the -- what I'd like to do, my role here today is to discuss specifically in detail the progress that we have achieved in the past year on the POW-MIA issue in Vietnam.
Last July, President Clinton spelled out four key areas in which we said that we would have to see tangible progress in accounting for our missing servicemen. And I'd like to describe the progress we have made in each of those four areas.
The first criteria set out by the President was concrete results from efforts by Vietnam to recover American remains. Since the President's call in July, 39 remains have been recovered, bringing the total recovered remains in 1993 to 67. I should point out that none of the 39 remains recovered since July have been identified yet. But three other remains previously recovered have been identified in that time period.
It's important to note that this is more than twice the number that were recovered in 1992, and the third most productive year for recovering remains since the end of the war.
The Vietnamese have also increased publicity for its remains amnesty program, encouraging its citizens to turn over any remains they might be holding. They have also established an office in Ho Chi Minh City to increase efforts to recover remains of Americans who died in captivity in the South.
On the second criteria regarding the resolution of discrepancy cases and continued investigation of live sighting reports, cooperation has been excellent. We and the Vietnamese have formed the Priority Case Investigation Team, the acronym you'll hear a lot, PCIT, to focus on joint investigations of the 92 remaining priority, last-known alive discrepancy cases.
Since July, we have confirmed the deaths of 19 individuals on that list. In all of 1993, we confirmed the deaths of 62 individuals, removing them from that list. A special U.S. team operating in Vietnam continues to investigate the remaining 73 cases.
Nearly 100 reported live sightings have been investigated on the ground in Vietnam since 1991, and none have produced evidence that an American POW is today held captive in
Vietnam. We have, and of course will continue to pursue vigorously any report of a live prisoner.
The third area identified by the President was assistance in arranging trilateral investigations with the Lao. Last August, the Vietnamese and Lao agreed to conduct trilateral investigations with us along their common border, including along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The first such operation was in December '93, and it located remains as well crash sites, which will be excavated in the coming months. The Commander of the Joint Task Force Field Accounting, General Tom Needham, has noted that the vigorous efforts by Vietnam during this trilateral investigation were particularly helpful.
Finally, President Clinton demanded accelerated efforts to provide POW-MIA documents that would help lead to genuine answers. Since July 1993, we received for the first time records from Vietnam's wartime antiaircraft units along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This is the so-called 559 documents. These records related to U.S airmen who were shot down and are listed as POW-MIA.
We have also received important documents from a wartime military political unit that handled U.S. personnel during the war. Both sets of documents are expected to provide leads to the location of remains of MIAs.
Finally, we have received for the first time written reports from Hanoi on unilateral investigations the Vietnamese have conducted to attempt to locate American remains. To date, more than 25,000 documents, artifacts and photographs related to U.S. POW-MIAs have been examined, with over 600 items correlating to missing servicemen.
In addition to these tangible results achieved in the four key areas since the President's statement last July, there have been other areas of progress relating to the meticulous progress of POW-MIA accounting. Since our U.S. POW office was established in Hanoi in July '91, our staff has increased from four to 19 permanent Americans. Vietnam has instituted an oral history program designed to gain information from the memories of Vietnamese participants of operations during the war. Seventy of the 120 individuals identified for interview have been completed, resulting in information on 20 unresolved questions.
DOD has established a defense POW/MIA Office, which has consolidated the DIA special office on POW/MIAs, essential documentation office. The U.S. Army's Task Force Russia, the Office of the Secretary of Defense for POW/MIA Affairs.
Consolidating these key functions has centralized the Washington, D.C.-based POW/MIA efforts resulting in not only more efficiency, but in greater responsiveness in dealing with the families, with public inquiries, a number of interagency tasks interests.
Finally, I should point out that virtually all the Vietnam War POW/MIA documents have been declassified. There are now more than 1.5 million pages in the Library of Congress that have been declassified. As is evident from all these statistics, President Clinton's strategy is working. We are achieving important results.
Last year, as a result of all of our efforts, we were able to provide the families of POW/MIAs with 5,600 meaningful reports on the circumstances of the loss of their loved ones. We will continue to deal with Vietnam with only one goal in mind, what we can do to make even more progress for the family of our missing Americans.
Q What's the current count, do you have that? The current count of unaccounted for.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: POW/MIA -- 2,238.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me just make a couple of other points, and then we can go to your questions. First, the President, of course, throughout this process has been consulting a wide variety of people on this issue. The families and the veterans we've already mentioned; and, of course, the military and the members of his government. And I can say that this is absolutely true -- it's not always the case, but he got unanimous recommendation from all his top military leaders, including General Shali and Joint Chiefs of Staff, the command of our Pacific forces, all the members of the Cabinet concerned with this history, including, of course, Secretaries of State and Defense, National Security Advisor -- everyone believed this was the best way to make further progress, and that was the sole criterion as the other senior administration official has pointed out.
It doesn't mean there can't be disagreements on this issue, but I am saying a remarkable array of people on the ground and here in Washington have advised this course. So have, of course, the U.S. Senate, and the many names that I think will be associated with this today, including some that I believe have submitted statements, but including most of the Vietnam veterans, ex-prisoners of war and so on.
Secondly, I would point out that this is an ongoing process. For those who believe that leverage is important and, in dealing with this issue there were many other economic and political and diplomatic assets that can be employed for this purpose. This is just the beginning of a resumption of a process, a continuation of the process. This is not normalization of diplomatic relations.
There are areas in the economic field that are not affected by this decision. It is, of course, an important step forward, but I'm just pointing out that there are many other sources and many other incentives for future progress, which we now fully expect.
Finally, just a couple of comments on the liaison office, which is, frankly, a term which can be quite flexible. We have to, of course, to sit down with the Vietnamese and discuss exactly what this will entail. Its purposes from our standpoint are already very clear. Namely, above all, to increase and help our efforts to search for information on the POW/MIA question, both directly with these people and being able to talk to the Vietnamese, but also to relieve any burden from those most directly responsible for the joint task force, et cetera, from having to do other duties.
Those are the most important purposes. Also, it will enable us to carry on important bilateral dialogue with the Vietnamese, including on the issue of human rights, which we consider very important and which we have raised in the past consistently. There will be a dialogue started officially later this month, so that will be an important factor, and there will be many other issues to be discussed as well.
And finally, of course, we would envisage many more Americans, whether businesspeople or tourists, going into Vietnam, and we want to service them and protect them as well.
I think those are the main points to get out. Now we can go to your questions.
Q Most of the members of Congress who talked about this yesterday at least talked about the economic implications. Could you go into that a little more?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: First of all, I want to repeat that although economic objectives are crucial to the President's foreign policy, this is one issue where he has clearly delineated his priorities, and it is not economic in this case. It is the fate of our missing personnel.
We often have sometimes some tension between goals when we're pursuing relations with various countries: security, human rights, economics, et cetera. And often, it's judgment calls and you have to try to reconcile these.
This is one case where the priorities are firmly established, and in this case the MIA issue. Now, having said that, we don't believe, in this case, it's mutually exclusive, even though the criterion is pursuing the MIA question. If more people go into Vietnam, we believe we'll get more information. We also believe -- and this is a crucial calculation for the President -- that this process of engagement with the Vietnamese will produce further progress. And in informing them of this decision, we made it very clear that we expect even heightened cooperation and certainly continued high-level cooperation that we've seen, and I can say that we have received those assurances from the Vietnamese, and we will be looking very carefully at that continually, including this delegation going out.
Q You didn't answer the question about what the economic --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That was inadvertent, not purposeful. Excuse me. I'll be very honest with you, I don't want to dwell on that in this background briefing. There will be plenty of time to go into that -- I'll address it, but I do not want this to take away from the primary motivation, the primary rationale for this decision.
Of course, there are economic implications. Of course, this will help economically in American business; there's nothing to be apologetic about for that. And it will perhaps have other implications in terms of regional security, et cetera. But I want to emphasize the main theme, that that was not what was behind this decision.
Q Did the President attach any conditions --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There will be plenty of time for briefings from other agencies involved in this to go into that. But I really don't want to change the thoughts of this background. I'll be very honest.
Q Did the President attach any conditions to the lifting of the embargo?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, except the expectation that the high-level cooperation will certainly continue.
Q How was that expressed?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: How was that expressed? Further tangible progress in the four areas laid out.
Q How as it expressed in the agreement, or in anything that attaches to it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, it is part of the process we've been engaged on throughout this administration, where we take steps both to acknowledge cooperation and to encourage further cooperation. The Vietnamese fully understand that; it was repeated this morning to them. And we will watch very closely. We expect further progress.
Now, on the economics, which ought to be some help, we're lifting the embargo, as said. We will take some time to work out the regulations. This will be up to Treasury and Commerce. And I would not think it would take a long time. In the past it's sometimes taken a couple of months. In this case it's not so difficult to interpret, so I would think it's a matter of weeks, certainly not months and probably not days. We're not talking about -- Excuse me?
There's one technical point that I should point out with respect to this. And this is a technical point. We are -- this will really throw you off. We, in fact, are maintaining the Trading with the Enemy Act for the sole purpose of hanging on to Vietnamese assets, because we will have claims negotiations and, therefore, you need this authority to continue in order to hang on to them. So everything else, in effect, is waived -- everything else is lifted.
Q Do you know what the estimated value of those assets that we hold are?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't want to jeopardize our negotiating position, so I don't know whether I ought to be -- we'll get that for you if there's no problem. The question is, I don't know whether it's not a good idea to release it at this point. We will find out immediately and let you know if there's any problem with that.
Q There are certain laws on the books --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, let me finish. What we're doing with freezing the assets is what we've done with Cambodia, for example. We still have trading there, but we're working out the claims assets negotiation. That's a technicality.
Q There are certain laws on the books now independent of this embargo that ban trade with Vietnam. Have you had discussions with Congress about that, and what would be the status of those? And does Congress have any input in this decision or is it purely a presidential decision?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no. First of all, obviously, it's a presidential decision, but the President considered very carefully the opinions of both the House and the Senate. He, of course, noted the Senate vote. But he's had many discussions with both supporters of this move and presumable opponents of this move. But the former are vastly in the majority.
Now, what was the other part of your question? Oh, yes, about the details.
Q There are laws on the books now --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, we have not addressed this in detail. We will discuss it closely with the Congress. There are many economic aspects which are not affected automatically by this in export control laws, national security laws, so that there will be some continuing restrictions, presumably, but this all has to be worked out.
Q Does the President see this decision as both a reward for past cooperation recently and an incentive for future cooperation?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In the first place, no one has ever used the word "reward" except some ill-informed backgrounder person who put it in somebody else's mouth. But that's a phrase we never use. We're talking about acknowledging cooperation and motivation and incentive for future cooperation. We're not talking about rewards.
Let me get back, since there was some grumbling on the economic question.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- emphasize that the latter is more important.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. Of course. That's a good point, the other senior official is helping me out here, a point I hope we've already made clear. What is most important is the future, namely the President has made the decision that this is the best way to get more accounting. In order to take that decision, he also has to acknowledge that the criteria he laid out in July have been met, but the primary purpose is to get more, and continue cooperation.
But let me get back to the economic question. Did we get into some of the things you were concerned about? I didn't want to look evasive. I just didn't want to take away -- make this look like an economic decision, which it's not.
Q If the trade embargo is lifted, will the U.S. Ex-Im Bank be able to make loans to Vietnam?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: These are the kinds of decisions we still have to examine. American businesses are free to trade now and invest in Vietnam; that's the main point.
Q Any estimates of how big this trade will be, how much money it will involve for U.S. businesses?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I've seen varying estimates, and again, I do think Commerce would be better positioned to do that. There's a lot of disagreement. Many feel there's major opportunities here, others feel that's been inflated.
Q Are these the first diplomatic representatives?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: One point. It's been obvious to everybody who was involved in the decision-making process here that there is an economic stake. But it strikes me in retrospect that we never, in any of the meetings of the principals, actually got an economic analysis of what was at stake, because we were focusing so clearly on that single central criterion.
Q Is this the first diplomatic presence the United States has had in Hanoi since Hanoi became an independent country 40 years ago?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's not a full diplomatic presence, a liaison office.
Q I didn't say full. Have we ever had a diplomat assigned to Hanoi?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we have right not three temporary duty foreign service --
Q Well, we were told they were not diplomats, they were consular offices, basically. They didn't really have dealings with the Vietnamese government.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. We had a consul general there for --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I believe we had a consulate in Hanoi in the late 1940s.
Q What is it that occasioned this at this time? This was -- if you had such a good year last year in this regard, it would suggest, perhaps, that the policy in effect was working, and perhaps to some, at last, and perhaps that policy should have been continued. What occasions the shift now, and could you explain that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, first of all the President said he'd keep under constant review after his previous decisions whether to take another step and judge the level of cooperation and the prospects for future cooperation. It was his best judgment that this is a reciprocal process, and if they have shown an effort -- and we believe that our taking a step in return would increase their efforts or make sure of the high level of cooperation, this would be best to do that. People can speculate whether, if we cut off any further steps over a period of time, cooperation would slacken. I'm not asserting that, but I am asserting that the President judged that we would have the best chance of guaranteeing further cooperation by taking another step.
Q If that's true, then why are you so averse to the word "reward"? Isn't this a case of incentive and reward? Isn't that what the policy is about?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I'll be very honest in that. For many years, the Vietnamese were not cooperative. They were, frankly, evasive, they didn't help the families, and that's why many of us -- and we all have great sympathy for the families, even if we may disagree on tactics. So when you're talking about a country that we believe broke the Paris Agreements and who have been evasive with us in the past, we'd rather not use verbs like that. It doesn't mean we don't want to have a sound relationship, but I just think it's an inappropriate verb.
Q It's more of a noun.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It can be a noun or a verb.
Q What will we do now if the cooperation slows down a bit? Will we put the embargo back on?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: First of all, we don't expect that to happen. The Vietnamese have already in their initial response -- because we judge by actions, not words -- but they've already pledged, if anything, even further cooperation, although they would claim it's very full, and we believe it's quite full now. So we'd have to address that if it came up. But I think it's a hypothetical situation. We certainly don't expect it to arise.
But we will make very clear that this is a ongoing process -- the Vietnamese know that -- and that we will continue to look for further tangible progress. And that is our expectation. It's based on that the President made this decision.
Q you want the focus on the POW-MIA issue, but can you give us some idea, sir, when and what magnitude the economic aspect would begin? You said a matter of weeks. Companies have been over there, have had representatives over there. They appear ready
to go into motion almost instantly. Surely you must be able to give us some idea, sir, what size and of what magnitude economic --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I honestly am not being evasive. And also it's not a matter of keeping the focus. If I knew the answers precisely at this point, I would try to give them to you. I really don't have a good feel for the estimates. You may find that hard to believe, but it's also disputed.
We will, obviously, implement the regulations as soon as possible. This has been a close hold situation, so I don't know how fast Treasury and Commerce thinks they can do that. They will obviously move with the utmost speed. I mean, once the decision is made, there's no reason to slow down on it.
I think many Americans are poised to move out quickly. They were authorized under the Bush administration to set up offices and even to enter into talks. They couldn't conclude contracts, but they could do a lot of the spade work to get ready for it. So, I think they can act very quickly once the regulations are issued by Treasury and Commerce.
Q This is not diplomatic recognition, is it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, it is not.
Q Under what conditions -- how do you move forward towards that now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we're just addressing the immediate situation. We haven't addressed those issues.
Q Well, is that tied as well to the POW-MIA? Where does that go from here?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think it's fair to say that that will remain the President's top criterion -- is the POW-MIA progress on any further steps.
Q Is there any feeling -- you've emphasized the incentives. Is there any feeling that you're on the wrong course and if incentives should have been employed earlier, it would have gotten more results?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm sorry I missed the timing --
Q Is there any feeling now that you're going with emphasis on incentives that maybe the hard sell, the hard line of fullest possible accounting was the wrong course and you would have gotten better results earlier if you had gone with the incentives as a first policy?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not at all, no. There's a difference here between what the goal is which is a very clear goal. And that is the fullest possible accounting and the tactics towards that goal. And we have been over the past year calibrating the progress in our relationship with them to the progress they have been making towards that goal. And we think that's been working right since last spring when we laid out both this goal and that strategy.
Q Being tough got you this far, but you don't think that's the best step now -- incentives are better now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, again, the goal --I don't know whether tough is the right word here. The goal is and
has been very clear. And that has not changed at all. And the tactics towards that goal, the strategy towards that goal has been consistent throughout. As you will recall, we had previously, first of all, had allowed the Vietnamese to clear their arrearages with the IMF last spring. And that was a step because they were making progress. Then last September, we allowed -- and that meant, I'm sorry, that previous decision meant that the international financial institutions could then start to carry out projects and make loans in Vietnam.
In September then, when there had been more progress, we then allowed American companies to bid on those contracts. Since last September there has been further progress, and now we are taking another step. So I think it's been quite a consistent strategy.
Q Would you please address the concerns of the families, because Griffiths was here last week -- I believe she saw you. When she spoke to us outside the driveway, she was quite adamant saying that she believes that Vietnam has not been as cooperative as it could have been and that there has not been the kind of progress that she thinks should have been made. How are you dealing with that, and what are you saying in the interview to people like Ms. Griffiths and other family representatives to reassure them?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I have met with her many times over the past year. I've found all our conversations valuable. She knows a lot about the issue. Clearly, she disagrees with our tactical judgment here as to what is the best way to achieve further progress.
I might say a word here about the meeting with the leaders of the veterans organizations. I can't speak for them, but I can say that it has been a very respectful one in both directions. And that while some of them disagreed with this as a tactical step, I was impressed with the way all of them expressed appreciation for the President's commitment on this issue and the concern he has showed and the thought that went into the decision. One of them said we will be agreeable in our disagreement on this tactic. And they all agreed at the end that we are working toward a common goal and that we will continue to work together on it, and we will continue to work with the League of Families as well.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Could I answer the answer on the Griffiths situation?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're inviting her to go along, of course, on the mission next spring.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: First, I might add, that I also met with her and her group on Saturday for over two hours, and I was -- all of us are trying to keep in touch. But the important point is the following: Whether it's the League of Families or some of the veterans groups -- and this isn't monolithic by any means -- I think if you describe the debate, here's how it sort of breaks down. First, I think both sides -- and again, we believe the vast majority of people do back this decision -- but honest people can disagree and we have great sympathy for both the veterans and families. As I said, in the past they've had some -- a lot of disappointments and deception.
There's agreement on the goal, namely, full as possible accounting of MIAs. I think there's general agreement, most of these people -- I can't put words in their mouth -- on the strategy, namely that you avoid the two extremes if no engagement -- where you won't get any information, and where we didn't get it for many years because there was no engagement; but also not great leaps forward, as I suggested earlier, I think, where you squander your leverage if you go immediately to diplomatic relations and so on.
So, therefore, the general point of, sort of an in between course, I think, disagreement on. Then the issue comes, what's happening with respect to cooperation and progress. Again, I think there's agreement; there's been a lot of cooperative attitude in the sense of activity, stepped up Vietnamese efforts on joint field investigations, going out and trying to find witnesses and so on. So the disagreement, and I'm not belittling it -- the disagreement comes whether there's been actual sufficient tangible progress to want this incremental step. The other senior official laid out for you why we think there has, and does the President. And I think it's there that the disagreement revolves. So I just wanted to give you the parameters of the debate.
Q You use the term, fullest possible accounting. Is it possible that that term will eventually mean that there will be a sizable portion of the 2,238 that will never be accounted for, and that the families are simply going to have to accept that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the families understand that a large portion of the 2,238 will never be accounted for. Fullest possible accounting simply means to account for everyone that can be accounted for. We just recovered three sets of remains from World War II in Tibet. We recovered remains from World War II in New Guinea and various places. As long as there are leads, as long as there is information, we will attempt to do whatever we can and get answers to the family.
Q You spoke about not squandering --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me just add to this. This is a process that is almost certainly going to take years into the future. And we are committing ourselves, have committed ourselves to continue to work on this issue for those years. And as he said, we are still recovering remains from wars ago.
Q You spoke of not squandering your leverage, sir. What leverage is left?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I'm not -- the answer is there are many aspects of fully normal relationship that we have not achieved, both economic and diplomatic.
Q But has there -- there's been no great call for that from Vietnam. What they're interested in now --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, yes, Vietnam -- no, Vietnam would welcome immediate diplomatic relations. They would welcome complete free trade without regard to other controls, which will still remain, as they do with many other countries. So there's plenty of objectives that -- I'm sure, that have not been fulfilled.
On the other hand, obviously, they can and have and should welcome this significant step forward.
Q Will they have MFN?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, you can't have MFN until you have a trade agreement, so you'd have to negotiate a trade agreement first.
Q How long will it be, do you think, before there are diplomatic relations? You just said, certainly it will be years before we resolve the POW problem.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's a future issue that we are not addressing now.
Q But can you just talk about a reasonable time line, or what your own expectations are?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it depends on events.
Q How much control are we talking about on trade? You describe it as controlled trade. How much control of --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I was referring to like the State Department munitions list, the Commerce restrictions on dual-use items, national security. I understand your questions on the whole economic front, I really do, and we'll try to get Commerce and Treasury people to help you over the coming days to fill in some of these issues.
Q Is there another country that the relationship will be somewhat similar to? For example, will it be as restricted as -- less restricted than with China? Or is there a parallel you draw on that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't want to give you off the top of my head something which may be misleading. It will be somewhere in between England and Iraq. (Laughter.)
Q Can you just give us -- since the Koreans are today sort of saying to the United States, enough of this talk; if you keep trying to inspect us, we're going to drop out of nonproliferation -- could you give us a answer on how the U.S. is responding to that today?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have been in touch with the Koreans. Our position has not changed. The focus right now is on the negotiations between the North Koreans and the IAEA. And we hope that the North Koreans recognize their interest in achieving an agreement on inspections that will allow the IAEA to certify the continuity of safeguards, and that those negotiations continue.
Q But the U.S. has no sense of suggesting that there not be full inspections and the Koreans kind of get what they want?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. No, our position has not changed in the slightest in the last few weeks.
MS. MYERS: We'll take one more question.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: One question about the liaison office. Can you tell us when the liaison office will be set up and also, will the top officers at the liaison office have the ambassadorial rank?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The answer to the second is almost certainly -- no, is the quick answer to the second one, I think it's fair to say.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Absolutely. Because we're not talking about diplomatic relations or anything that high profile. This is a practical step that is needed for the purposes that we've already outlined. We will sit down shortly with the Vietnamese and begin to work out these details, but we just don't have them today. I can't give you more than what we have.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END4:35 P.M. EST