WHILE BILL CLINTON WEIGHS the political pros and cons of restoring diplomatic relations with Vietnam, his predecessor is planning a four-day trip there in September, BUSINESS WEEK has learned. During his visit to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, George Bush will meet top Vietnamese leaders and give a speech. Citibank is sponsoring the trip, but won't say how much it is paying Bush.
His visit will mark a milestone in U.S.-Vietnam relations. Not since Lyndon Johnson's 1966 trip to Vietnam has a U.S. President set foot there.
Bush's jaunt could give Clinton political cover to renew full diplomatic and economic ties with its former foe. U.S. companies have a quiet campaign for that afoot. Clinton last year lifted a trade embargo on Vietnam. But this drew fire from families of former POWs and missing soldiers. The White House is skittish about more negative fallout from closer ties to Hanoi.
Bush, who as President refused to lift the embargo, seems to think now that Vietnam no longer merits pariah status. His office, which left it to Citi to notify the White House of the trip, won't say much about it publicly.