Ex-POW, now senator, heads to Vietnam for talks Sen. McCain of Ariz. wants healing to start between the U.S., Vietnam.

April 02, 1991|By Arizona Republic

The United States has never been more ready to normalize relations with Vietnam and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., wants to start the healing process.

McCain, a former Navy fighter pilot shot down over Hanoi and held prisoner by the Vietnamese for five years, was due in Hanoi today.

He will hold four days of talks with high-ranking officials in an attempt to resolve the often emotional issues that still divide the two nations.

Those questions include the fate of 2,288 Americans still listed as missing in action, the status of anti-communists imprisoned in Vietnam and Vietnam's role in the bitter civil war in neighboring Cambodia.

"This administration is prepared to move forward more so than any time in the past," said McCain, 54, who held three meetings with Secretary of State James A. Baker on healing nearly 20 years of suspicion and enmity between the two countries.

"Popular opinion is that they [Americans] would like to go ahead and get this resolved. I think the majority opinion is that. You may find a few guys at a [Veterans of Foreign Wars] post who'd say we should nuke 'em, but they are a minority now," McCain said before leaving on his trip.

He will return to the scene of his ordeal, where a memorial near the lake into which McCain parachuted portrays him dangling helplessly in a sea of flames.

This will be the senator's second trip to Vietnam since his release from the prison known as the Hanoi Hilton in 1973.

Asked about assertions by President Bush that the allied victory in the Persian Gulf war has enabled the United States to shake off the psychological effects of its ordeal in Vietnam, McCain said he felt the defeat of Iraq has helped.

But, he added, deep scars remain from the Vietnam experience.

"We want to get rid of the memories of war," he said.

"I was fortunate in being able to put the whole [prisoner-of-war] experience behind me," McCain said, explaining why he is willing to deal with his former captors.

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