On this day in 1994, President Bill Clinton lifts a 19-year-old trade embargo of the Republic of Vietnam. The embargo had been in place since 1975, when North Vietnamese forces captured the city of Saigon in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
President Clinton lifted the embargo primarily to encourage cooperative efforts between the U.S. and Vietnam to discover the fate of American prisoners of war (POWs) and missing in action (MIA) who had remained unaccounted for after the war. He also believed that improved business relations between the U.S. and Vietnam would benefit the economies of both nations. American businesses interested in expanding in Asian nations like Vietnam applauded his move, while veterans’ organizations and families of servicemen killed during the Vietnam War erupted in outrage over the lifting of the embargo. They believed that the lifting of the embargo, as well as Clinton’s status as a draft dodger and his active participation in war protests during the 1970s, was an insult to the memories of those who fought and died during Vietnam in service to their country. They also believed that the Vietnamese could not be trusted, citing examples of the Vietnamese government’s habit of providing false information to U.S. officials regarding the whereabouts of American POWs.
In 2000, six years after lifting the embargo, Clinton became the first American head of state to visit Vietnam since before the war. During the visit he attempted to soothe ongoing U.S. internal conflict over the Vietnam War and his actions by stating, “The history we leave behind is painful and hard. We must not forget it, but we must not be controlled by it.”
According to the Department of Defense, 325 American servicemen were accounted for in the first 12 years after the lifting of the embargo. The status of more than a thousand missing servicemen remains unknown.