The United States has asked Vietnam for permission to establish an office in Hanoi that would speed up the search for missing American servicemen, the Pentagon said Saturday.

The request, which Vietnam appears to have approved, could lead to formal U.S. recognition of the communist government in Hanoi.The request was made by special presidential envoy Gen. John W. Vessey, who met Friday in Vietnam with Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach.

Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. T.P. Mazar said the Vietnamese response would be made public only after Vessey and his team return Sunday to Washington.

But another official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Vietnamese appear to have agreed to the U.S. request.

The U.S. office would collect information about the estimated 1,700 Americans still listed as missing from the Vietnam War, which ended 16 years ago.

The office would help the Vietnamese plan joint investigations of crash sites where U.S. remains may be found and investigate reports of sightings of Americans, Mazar said.

The United States has told Vietnam that speeding up the search for MIAs is one of two conditions for normalizing ties between the two countries. The other prerequisite is for Vietnam to help end the civil war in Cambodia, where a Vietnamese-installed government has been fighting U.S.-backed rebels for more than 10 years.

The administration holds Vietnam partly responsible for the impasse in efforts by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to broker a settlement in Cambodia.