WASHINGTON -- For the first time, the United States has pledged financial assistance to Vietnam, $1 million for the medical care of children, the State Department said Thursday.
The money, expected to be used largely for the purchase of prosthetic devices, will be provided through the Agency for International Development.
The announcement, made at a congressional hearing, comes amid a thaw in relations between communist Vietnam and the United States.
Several days ago the two countries agreed to the formation of a U.S. office in Hanoi to facilitate locating U.S. servicemen still listed as missing or prisoners of the Vietnam War.
Assistant Secretary of State Richard Solomon told a Senate subcommittee that the aid is a reflection of an improvement in the cooperation with Hanoi.
The aid, though undoubtedly welcome, is a paltry sum for a country whose economy is severely depressed.
Humanitarian aid has only trickled into Vietnam. Since last July, 36 groups and individuals have made donations totaling about $4.3 million.
Economically, Vietnam can only gain from improved relations with the West, which is prepared to invest heavily in the Asian nation.
The U.S. government is at a delicate stage in its formative relationship with Vietnam, which has yet to accept U.S.-sponsored demands for a withdrawal from neighboring Cambodia, which it invaded in 1978.
'We believe Vietnam has an obligation to use its influence to bring about a just and durable peace,' Solomon told a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific affairs.
Moreover, 'there can be no peaceful settlement for Cambodia without Vietnam's support,' he said.
While U.S.-Vietnamese cooperation has deepened on the prisoner issue, the road to full normalization awaits resolution of Cambodia's independence, which has been hindered by the Vietnam-backed Khmer Rouge.
Earlier this month, Solomon met in New York with Vietnam's ambassador to the United Nations to present a four-stage plan for normalization that called for, among other things, Vietnam's withdrawal from Cambodia and its assurances that Khmer Rouge would not be permitted a political or military base in Cambodia.
The plan has met with general support on Capital Hill, though some lawmakers are disinclined to help Vietnam in any way.
Several businessmen told the panel that the business community appears to be eager to forge a trade pact with Vietnam, with a population of 70 million.
'Clearly, the possibilities of a market of 70 million people suddenly opening to the outside world has sparked the imagination of some in the business community,' Solomon said.