WASHINGTON -- On the eve of his trip to Asia, President Clinton is expected to make his first important overture to Vietnam, approving steps that would let international banks resume lending to the Hanoi government.
The decision represents a significant move toward lifting the 18-year-old trade embargo with Vietnam and ultimately normalizing relations, steps favored by the American business community.
"It's an important signal that we are proceeding on the normalization course," said Virginia Foote, director of the United States-Vietnam Trade Council, a consortium of U.S. business groups that favors renewing relations.
But the decision is a political risk for Mr. Clinton. Already, the POW-MIA lobby and veterans groups are planning to attack the policy change because they believe Vietnam is still withholding information about American servicemen missing in action.
"It would be a total catastrophe," said Orson Swindle, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam and one-time presidential campaign manager for Ross Perot.
White House spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers refused to confirm yesterday that Mr. Clinton supports a lifting of the lending restrictions. However, a senior administration official said the president had decided to follow the recommendation of his advisers and go forward. He's working out details of the announcement, including talking to POW and MIA families, the official said.