Should the United States start normalizing relations with an old foe, Vietnam?

Though the American public hasn't paid much attention to that part of the world in a long time, we all had better start thinking seriously about that question - since it is under active consideration in both Washington and Hanoi.And since Hanoi has the most to gain from the restoration of diplomatic relations and an end to the U.S. economic embargo imposed at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, Washington should have no qualms about insisting that Hanoi meet certain conditions.

One condition should be a more complete accounting for the Americans missing in action in Vietnam. About 2,300 Americans are still listed as having disappeared in Indochina during the war, including 1,700 in Vietnam. Even if none of them are still alive, Hanoi should be required to tell all that it knows about their fate.

Another condition should be a settlement of the continuing conflict in Cambodia. Both Vietnam and its puppet government in Cambodia are still resisting a peace plan drawn up in Paris last year by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council - Britain, China, France, the Soviet Union and the United States. Under the plan, U.N. officials would take control of Cambodia, supervise a cease-fire of the civil war there and conduct elections for a new government.

By normalizing relations, Washington would not only end the economic embargo that has seriously hampered Vietnam's efforts to develop its economy but would also clear the way for international loans to Vietnam. Clearly, Washington should not give Hanoi something for nothing.