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The Clinton administration has confirmed what WorldNetDaily first
reported last month amid much controversy — that the president will
make a trip to Vietnam, shortly after the Nov. 7 election so as to
minimize negative political fallout for Democratic presidential nominee
Newswire services yesterday reported the story that Clinton would
travel to Southeast Asia after the U.S. elections, but before he leaves
office next January.
“The plan to make the visit in November was first reported by
Today in Thursday’s editions,” the Associated Press said yesterday.
However, Clinton’s plan to visit Vietnam — and to become the first U.S. president to do so since the late Richard Nixon visited Saigon in 1969 — was actually
first announced in an exclusive news story by
WorldNetDaily staff writer Geoff Metcalf more than three weeks ago, on Aug. 23.
In addition to reporting Clinton’s planned visit, Metcalf provided details of a plan “to allow the American flag to fly below that of Vietnam when he sails into the communist nation’s territorial waters on a U.S. Navy ship.”
Quoting “highly placed Navy sources who spoke on condition of anonymity,” the WND report said Clinton was prepared to alter Navy regulations to allow the Vietnamese flag to fly above the U.S. flag aboard naval vessels entering Vietnamese harbors.
“Vietnam’s rules reportedly demand that the Vietnamese flag shall always fly in a superior position to any other country’s flag,” WorldNetDaily reported. “High-ranking naval officers, speaking on condition that their names not be published, say the reason for all the alarm, anger and career-threatening rhetoric is that Clinton allegedly has either ordered, or is about to order, the secretary of the Navy to amend regulations to permit the Vietnamese flag to be displayed over the U.S. flag.”
follow-up story, WND reported that the Navy was officially denying both the presidential trip to Southeast Asia and the flag scenario.
“The Navy is not aware of any planned trips by the President to China or Vietnam aboard a Navy ship,” said Alan P. Goldstein, assistant chief of information for technology integration in the Navy’s Office of Information in the Pentagon.
“I have also read the article in the Internet publication and can assure you that there are no plans to change the regulations governing the flying of the U.S. flag on U.S. Navy warships,” Goldstein said. “Federal statutes determine Navy Regulations on the flying of the national ensign on Navy vessels, and are not subject to alteration by the Department of the Navy.”
While many readers, particularly those in the military, were understandably outraged at the president over the allegations in the report, some were outraged at WorldNetDaily.
“This is 100 percent bull, and the reporter knows it,” said one response from
CINCPACFLT (Commander in Chief U.S. Pacific Fleet) in a high-level news-room chat.
Another CINCPACFLT chat response: “Regarding the Vietnam issue as reported in this story that President Clinton is planning a visit was ‘NEWS’ to everyone I spoke with. No one seemed to have knowledge of any planned visit by Pres. Clinton to Vietnam, much less on a Navy ship. Could be that White House is thinking of such a visit and it leaked, or this story could be some fabrication.”
An e-mail alert widely circulated on the Internet, from Phil Alperson, legislative director for Rep. Ronnie Shows, D-Miss., announced:
“I have spoken with White House officials. They UNAMBIGUOUSLY state the following:
“1. There are no plans at this time for the President to make such a trip.
“2. If he were to make such a trip, there is no way he will alter Navy regulations requiring that the U.S. flag always fly above any other flag.
“THIS IS AN UNFOUNDED RUMOR THAT MUST STOP NOW!” said the congressional staffer, in his attempt to debunk the WorldNetDaily report.
Nevertheless, the White House has now acknowledged that Clinton will indeed make the trip, and some political analysts say the original intention of keeping the visit quiet so as not to damage Gore’s chances prior to the November election has been lost.
As to the validity of the second half of WND’s story — the alleged plan to avoid offending the Vietnamese government by temporarily lowering the American flag below the level of the communist nation’s flag, there has been no official confirmation, nor is there likely to be. Many military sources who contacted WND said that once the cat was out of the bag, the administration would just drop the idea due to massive adverse publicity.
Interestingly, the same CINCPACFLT writer that questioned whether WND’s report was a “fabrication,” also posted this: “Issue of Vietnam wanting their flag flown at the highest point on the ship (above US flag) has been an issue in discussions, not acceptable to U.S. and no visits to Vietnam are planned anytime soon.”
To counter possible negative publicity, the Clinton administration is attempting to garner support for the trip from Vietnam veterans in Congress.
According to published reports, Samuel L. Berger, Clinton’s national security adviser, has approached Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who spent years as a POW in Vietnam, and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a decorated Vietnam veteran, asking if both would like to accompany Clinton on the trip.
McCain had already planned a separate foreign trip during the time Clinton will visit Vietnam and will not go, but USA Today said Kerry was likely to join Clinton’s entourage.
Clinton, who spoke to Vietnamese President Tran Duc Luong about the trip during Tran’s attendance at last week’s United Nations Millennium Summit, will reportedly discuss the development of economic ties with Hanoi.
Such a trip to Vietnam is still controversial for Clinton because of his avoidance of military service during the 11-year war with communist North Vietnam. Early in Clinton’s first campaign for the White House, details of letters he had written to various draft boards and military officials described how he “loathed the military” and attempted to explain why he broke earlier promises to attend ROTC training while still in college.
Analysts at the time said Clinton chose Gore as a running mate because of the vice president’s Vietnam war experience, but later reports revealed that Gore had spent only five months in Vietnam — far less than standard year-long tours — and served as a reporter, not a combat soldier.
Texas Gov. George W. Bush, meanwhile, was an Air National Guard fighter pilot during the war, and was not sent overseas. Democrats have accused Bush of also avoiding military service by instead joining a reserve component, but he has countered those arguments by pointing out that if the military had needed him they would have sent him overseas.
Clinton reestablished diplomatic relations with Vietnam in 1995.
An Aug. 8 poll, however, found little support among the general population for renewing trade ties with the communist nation.
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