(U.S. must learn fate of missing Americans)  (600)
By Alexander M. Sullivan
1SIA White House Correspondent
Arlington, Virginia -- The United States insists on additional progress
in determining the fate of missing American soldiers before expanding its
ties to Vietnam, President Bush said July 24.

The president told families of 2,266 men still carried on Defense Department
rosters as missing in action in Southeast Asia that he will pursue the
issue until a full accounting for the servicemen is achieved.

"Without further positive movement on the POWs and MIAs," Bush warned, "we
cannot and will not continue to move forward with Hanoi."  The president
once again called on the Vietnamese government to "repatriate all recovered
and readily-recoverable remains" of the missing Americans as a "measure of
simple human decency."

The president pledged anew that Washington "will make every possible effort
always, take every possible action, to account for those taken prisoner or
missing in action.  Our aim remains the fullest possible accounting for
POWs and MIAs and nothing less....I take it to be a solemn covenant with
those who served this country."

The issue of missing Americans has taken on new intensity this year in two
unconnected ways -- through the unconfirmed revelations by Russian
President Yeltsin that servicemen captured by the Vietnamese may have been
moved to the Soviet Union; and by the conclusion of the Senate Select
Committee on POW-MIA Affairs that in the mid-1970s the United States knew
it was leaving behind living prisoners but suppressed the information.

The president, responding to the Senate's unanimous demand that classified
papers pertaining to the issue be made public, ordered the release of some
1.3 million pages of documents July 22.  The Pentagon made the first
installment available July 23.

Bush defended the Pentagon's policy of deleting or blocking out names in the
documents because "we will not publicly release any information that would
jeopardize on-going intelligence or negotiating efforts to account for your
loved ones."

Interrupted for several minutes by some distraught family members chanting
"no more lies," the president responded with equal emotion, recalling his
combat service as a naval aviator in World War Two and the remembered pain
of losing his wingman during his first mission.  Bush labeled "totally
unfair" any suggestion that he would harbor "personal knowledge of a person
held against his will" in Southeast Asia without acting on it immediately.

"There are Americans who did not return home at the end of the hostilities,"
Bush acknowledged, saying that is a fact known to the families and the U.S.
government "for a decade."  Those Americans were "last known to be alive,"
he said and "accounting for these men remains the highest priority.
Although there is not proof that any Americans are now alive, in the
absence of firm answers, our assumption will always be:  let fact direct
our policy and let hope be our guide."

The president said Vietnam has made some cooperative gestures, but he added
that "the concrete results that we seek" have not been forthcoming, despite
joint U.S.-Vietnamese investigation and an increase in the number of U.S.
personnel involved in the search.

While asserting that Washington wants "to continue and expand our joint
effort," Bush declared he "will never accept joint activity as the
substitute for real results.  Your long years of uncertainty," he told the
families, "must end and I am pledged to end them in any way I can."