Clinton: No Apology To Vietnam
A protester holds a placard in the colors of the Egyptian flag and Arabic that reads, "down with the military rule," in front of riot police during a rally demanding the release of fellow activists, detained during the army operation that dispersed a protest in front of the Ministry of Defense, in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, May 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser) / Nasser Nasser
That was what President Clinton had to say Tuesday as he sped to a 20-nation Asia-Pacific economic summit before continuing on a mission to strengthen relations with wartime adversary Vietnam.
"People fight honorably for what they believe in and they lose their lives," the president said. "No one has a right to say that those lives were wasted. I think that would be a travesty."
"I don't think any person is fit to make that judgment," he said.
"He did what he thought was right," said Mr. Clinton, a college war protester who avoided military service.
In an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press aboard Air Force One on a trip that will make him the first American president to visit since the war ended in 1975, Clinton said, "I now see how hard it was" for Johnson.
While stopping first at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Brunei, the U.S. president planned to confer with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin.
But the highlights on his itinerary were visits to Hanoi, the capital of a unified Vietnam, and to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.
It comes 25 years after U.S.-backed South Vietnam surrendered to North Vietnam, leaving in doubt the fate of many Americans classified as missing in action.
Mr. Clinton spoke about the sensitivity of the issue, especially among U.S. veterans of the Vietnam War and among the families of those still missing, during a Veterans Day seech Saturday at Arlington National Cemetery.
"Our nation has sought to move forward in developing these relations in a way that both honors those who fought and suffered there, and does right by the missing and their families," the president said.
Noting that the remains of 283 Americans have been repatriated since he took office in 1993, Clinton said he will visit the site where U.S. and Vietnamese teams are searching for remains of Air Force Capt. Lawrence Evert, missing since his plane was shot down on Nov. 8, 1969.
"In our national memory, Vietnam was a war," he said. "But Vietnam is also a country, a country emerging from almost 50 years of conflict, upheaval and isolation, and turning its face to a very different world, a country that can succeed in this new global age only if it becomes more interdependent and open to the world."
Mr. Clinton has undertaken a cautious re-engagement with Vietnam. He lifted a trade embargo in 1994; the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi opened in 1996. And last July, after four years of negotiations, the United States and Vietnam reached agreement on allowing generally unfettered commerce for the first time since the war.
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