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US Firms in Hanoi Hail News on Embargo

AFTER months of rumors and anxiety, American businessmen in Hanoi reacted with relief and joy to reports that President Clinton would soon lift the trade embargo against Vietnam, perhaps by the end of the week.

There was no word today from Vietnam, which has been eager for an end to the embargo.

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Washington imposed an embargo against North Vietnam in 1964. It extended the embargo to cover the entire country after South Vietnam fell to communist North Vietnam in 1975. Some United States veterans groups and families of missing Americans want the ban to stand.

Normalizing trade has been on the Clinton White House's agenda since December when Assistant Secretary of State Winston Lord returned from Hanoi to report that the communist government was cooperating in the search for some 2,200 unaccounted for American servicemen from the Vietnam War.

The embargo's demise would affect at once the 34 US companies who have opened offices in Vietnam. They were permitted to hire employees and sign contracts, but not execute them, when the Bush administration eased the embargo in 1992.

Speculation has been rife that Mr. Clinton would act soon, before the three-day celebration of Tet that marks the lunar New Year, beginning Feb. 10. The Senate last Thursday voted 62-38 to urge Clinton to end the embargo.

``I'm ecstatic that we're getting close,'' said James Rockwell, a Hanoi-based consultant for several US companies including Chrysler Corp. ``I've heard tons of stories flying around today. But that's great news for everybody.''

``It puts us in business,'' said Peter Ryder, president of Manolis & Company Asia Ltd., which runs a real estate development and investment firm in Hanoi.

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