U.S. Given Hanoi’s Full List of POW Pilots, Vessey Says : Missing: Emissary asserts Vietnam is cooperating now on issue. He discounts 1972 Russian document.


President Clinton’s special emissary on prisoner of war issues said Wednesday that Hanoi has provided a comprehensive list of American pilots held during the Vietnam War, and he asserted that Hanoi is now cooperating in resolving the POW question.

Retired Army Gen. John W. Vessey Jr. described the long-sought list--which contains handwritten chronological entries in the order that the U.S. pilots were captured--as “a very important document” that sheds “important light on missing Americans.”

Vessey also reiterated that his talks with key Vietnamese officials Sunday and Monday had convinced him there are serious flaws in a 1972 document provided by the Russians that appears to show North Vietnam had lied two decades ago about the numbers of American POWs it was holding.


“We know that some of the facts that are alleged in the Russian document are wrong--a lot of the facts,” Vessey told reporters after meeting privately with President Clinton. “We haven’t found any of the facts to be accurate.”

The document tells of a report by a North Vietnamese military officer in 1972 claiming that Hanoi had 1,205 American POWs interned, rather than the 368 that it had publicly acknowledged then. Its discovery in the archives of the Soviet Communist Party stirred suggestions that Hanoi had lied and reignited concerns that American prisoners may still be alive in Indochina.

Vessey also reported that the United States has persuaded the Laotian government to send representatives to discuss the POW issue with Vietnamese and U.S. officials in Hanoi between May 6 and May 8. U.S. officials say Vietnam sent at least some American POWs to Laos for internment.

It was not immediately clear what impact Vessey’s findings and Hanoi’s newly provided POW list, known as the “Blue Book,” would have on U.S.-Vietnamese relations--particularly on efforts by Vietnam to end the U.S. trade embargo against Vietnam and win U.S. backing for new World Bank loans.

U.S. authorities have been seeking access to the “Blue Book” for years but had been turned down repeatedly.

President Clinton, who faces decisions on these issues in coming weeks, had no formal comment after his meeting with Vessey, and no White House announcements appear to be imminent. However, analysts predicted that Vessey’s report will probably go at least part of the way toward assuaging Washington’s concerns about the apparent implications of the Russian document, and it may counter some of the opposition to ending the embargo.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the now-defunct Senate Committee on POW-MIA Affairs, said that while lawmakers still want Hanoi to provide additional documents, Hanoi’s decision to hand over the “Blue Book” is helpful.

Kerry said he thinks congressional action on whether to lift the trade embargo and support World Bank loans will be based more “on the level of cooperation we’re receiving” from Vietnam than on demands that Hanoi account fully for every American captured.

As has been the case previously, there was sharp disagreement between government officials and POW activists over the value of the information that Vessey brought back from Hanoi. The activists criticized Vessey’s assertions as overly optimistic, contending that the “Blue Book” lists only those American POWs who either died or were returned to the United States and does nothing to resolve whether some may be alive now.

“It’s the same thing all over again,” Dolores Apodaca Alford, president of the National Alliance of Families, which is based in Bellevue, Wash., said in a telephone interview. “The question is, did the Americans ask if there were live POWs? Apparently, they did not.”

Ann Mills Griffiths, president of the National League of Families, a Washington-based POW group, urged Clinton to press the Vietnamese harder for information about American POWs who still may be alive in Vietnam, Laos, North Korea or Russia.

The group has sent Clinton a letter asking him to continue the trade embargo.

Policy-makers have said that the issue has taken on new urgency as the Administration comes under increasing pressure, both at home and internationally, to lift the embargo.