A high-level U.S. delegation will travel to Hanoi next week to discuss with Vietnamese officials the fate of Americans who were held prisoner or listed as missing in action during the Vietnam War, the State Department announced Monday.
Assistant Defense Secretary Richard L. Armitage will lead the group, the highest-ranking U.S. mission to Vietnam since the war ended 10 years ago, State Department spokesman Charles Redman said.
Accompanying Armitage will be Assistant Secretary of State Paul D. Wolfowitz, National Security Council staff member Richard Childress and Ann Mills Griffiths, executive director of the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia.
In addition, a U.S. technical team will visit neighboring Laos for two days beginning Thursday to conduct a preliminary survey of the site where an Air Force AC-130 gunship crashed during the war, Redman said.
This would be the second joint excavation in Laos, where the remains of 13 U.S. servicemen were recovered from a crash site last February.
Redman said the Armitage delegation will meet next Monday with Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach and his deputy, Hoang Bich Son, but will discuss only the POW-MIA issue and will not touch on issues such as Vietnam’s continued occupation of Cambodia.
Veterans organizations and servicemen’s families have continued to press for a thorough investigation of the possibility that survivors still may be held in Vietnam. More than 2,400 Americans are listed as POWs or MIAs.
In the last year, U.S.-Vietnamese cooperation on information about POWs and MIAs has improved. Vietnam returned the remains of 26 U.S. servicemen last August--the largest group yet--after returning the bodies of 99 Americans in the years since the end of the Vietnam War.
The United States and Vietnam last month conducted their first joint search of a U.S. military aircraft crash site in Vietnam.