Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Senate Plea: `Put Vietnam Behind Us'

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Senate Plea: `Put Vietnam Behind Us'

Article excerpt

Twenty years after the last U.S. serviceman left Vietnam, two senators who bear the scars of that war helped persuade their colleagues that the time had come to lift trade sanctions.

It's time to "put the war behind us," Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said Thursday. He is a Vietnam War veteran who was wounded three times.

But the 62-38 Senate vote urging the White House to lift the trade embargo "expeditiously" is not binding.

The United States originally imposed sanctions against North Vietnam in 1964. The United States extended the embargo to cover the whole country after South Vietnam fell to communist forces in 1975.

On Thursday, Sens. Kerry and John McCain, R-Ariz., were the most eloquent in urging an end to the enmity with Vietnam, and the beginning of trade relations.

Kerry said, "If you want to serve the families (of the servicemen killed in action or still missing from the war), you will vote to lift the embargo. If you want to put the war behind us and act in a statesmanlike fashion and move to the future and protect the interests of this nation, you will vote to lift the embargo."

McCain spoke of his six years in a prisoner-of-war camp in North Vietnam. He said the fates of those still missing could best be learned by expanding relations with Vietnam.

"I don't often discuss my past experiences in the Vietnam War," McCain said, but he recalled how his communist jailers threatened that those prisoners who did not cooperate would never return home.

"Therefore, many times, at great physical risk, we did everything we could to account for those who were imprisoned," McCain said. He said that while the fates of some MIAs might never be known, "Every name that I knew of has been accounted for."

Six of the eight senators who served in Vietnam voted for the resolution, including Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., a Congressional Medal of Honor winner who lost part of his leg in Vietnam. He was joined by Sens. Larry Pressler, R-S.D., Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Charles S. Robb, D-Va. Voting against were Sens. Hank Brown, R-Colo, and Robert C. Smith, R-N.H.

The legislation, written as an amendment to the State Department authorization bill, includes a provision that Vietnam must do more to improve its human rights record. Kerrey said this must not be ignored.

"I believe it is time for us to end these sanctions, but it is not time for us to stop fighting for the freedom of the Vietnamese people," he said.

New Hampshire's Smith led the battle against the amendment, arguing that it violated the will of veterans and the families of MIAs.

"They are petrified that this amendment is going to pass, and they will lose the leverage they have to get the answers about their loved ones," he said.

Smith offered an amendment that would have required the president to certify that Vietnam was fully complying with the search for MIAs before trade sanctions could be lifted. …

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