A major American oil company confirmed Thursday that it had conducted exploratory business talks with Vietnam, even though the U.S. government has a trade embargo against the Southeast Asian nation.
"A representative of Unocal Corp. did visit Vietnam in an exploratory meeting several weeks ago," said Art Bentley, a spokesman for the Los Angeles-based company.
"There are no plans to proceed any further. That's about all I want to say about it," he said.
He noted that the U.S. government has maintained an embargo on trading with the former enemy since the end of the Vietnam war in 1975.
On Wednesday, a senior Vietnamese economic official said two U.S. oil companies had begun investigating the possibility of investing in oil exploration in Vietnam with approval of the U.S. State Department.
The two companies were identified as Unocal and Sun Co., headquartered in Radnor, Pa., by Nguyen Xuan Oanh, a member of the Vietnamese National Assembly and an economic adviser to the government.
Venture With Soviets
Sun denied sending any representative to Vietnam for talks.
Vietnam, in a joint venture with the Soviet Union, currently produces about 15,000 barrels of oil a day from the Bach Ho (White Tiger) field off the coast of southern Vietnam, a field that was discovered by American oil companies in the waning days of the Vietnam War.
The Southeast Asian nation has signed exploration contracts with British Petroleum, the French company Total, Royal Dutch-Shell of the Netherlands and Petrofina of Belgium in the past year.
In Washington, a State Department official, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified, said Wednesday that many U.S. companies call and are told the U.S. embargo against Vietnam still stands.
"We tell them it's all right to go and talk business. But it's against the law to do business," the official said.
Vietnamese withdrawal from Cambodia is the main roadblock to U.S. normalization of relations and lifting of the embargo, he said.