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News Briefs

Bush Hails Hanoi's POW Move As `Major Breakthrough'

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON

President Bush Thursday called Hanoi's decision to hand over archival information on missing American servicemen a "major breakthrough," but added that he would continue to press for a "full accounting" of all unresolved POW-MIA cases before normalizing diplomatic relations with Vietnam.

Bush, who aides said may make a statement about U.S.-Vietnamese relations on Friday, told CBS News that "significant progress" had been made by a presidential envoy who went to Hanoi last weekend seeking access to Vietnamese records on American POWs and MIAs from the Vietnam war.

Asked to comment on predictions by other officials that full normalization of diplomatic ties could come within the next two or three months, Bush said that it was "a little optimistic" to expect the issue to be resolved that quickly. But he added that he wants relations normalized and indicated that he might say more about the subject after meeting Friday with John W. Vessey Jr., the retired general and U.S. envoy to Hanoi on POW-MIA issues.

"This is a major breakthrough that's happened over there, but I need to know exactly how major," Bush said. "We're not going to (normalize relations) ... until I can say in total conscience ... that `here is a full accounting.' But having said that, we have made significant progress."

The photographs, documents and other archival records brought back by Vessey from Hanoi are part of a larger trove of POW-MIA-related information that U.S. officials have secretly been examining.

Access to the material, whose existence Hanoi had long denied, was originally granted to an American researcher in Vietnam earlier this year by a Vietnamese official whose identity remains secret. While much of the material remains in Vietnam, between 4,000 and 5,000 photographs depicting dead servicemen were recently obtained from the researcher, former intelligence operative Tim Schweitzer, sources familiar with the documents said.

Confronted last September with evidence that it had been withholding information long contained in its war museums and archives, Hanoi agreed to open up its POW-MIA files and the Vessey trip was arranged to give the Vietnamese a "face-saving" cover for what was, in effect, a diplomatic capitulation on their part, the sources added.

The existence of the photographs, quietly made known last month to members of a Senate committee investigating the fate of Vietnam era POWs and MIAs, has helped to resolve the cases of several missing servicemen. Pentagon spokesman Bob Hall confirmed on Thursday that "a limited number" of MIA relatives already have been notified.

Russia Arrests Scientists Who Disclosed Weapons Research

The Baltimore Sun

MOSCOW

Three scientists who discussed top-secret chemical weapons research with an American reporter were arrested Thursday by Russian security police during simultaneous raids on their apartments in different regions of Moscow.

Two were released after a full day of questioning. One will be charged with divulging state secrets, according to Russian television.

Papers and passports were seized from the three men during searches of their homes that lasted from two to four hours.

Vil Mirzayanov, who worked until a year ago at the State Union Scientific Research Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology, where top-secret work on developing new poison gases is carried out, remained at the Lefortovo Prison.

Last month, he and Lev Fyodorov, a chemist active in the fledgling environmental movement here, disclosed in an interview with The Baltimore Sun and later in Moskovskiye Novosti that research at the lab had continued at least through January. At the same time, as far back as 1987, the Soviet government was claiming that all chemical weapons production had been halted.

The authorities focused Thursday on the article in Moskovskiye Novosti. A statement released by the Russian Security Ministry said that the article "disclosed information about the situation with developments in the field of chemical technology, which constitute a state secret."

The ministry is the successor to the Soviet KGB.

In a broader article, last Sunday, The Sun reported that such research, aimed at developing more effective binary nerve gases, was still going on under a program code-named Foliant. The article described the work of the lab over the years, the high level of importance and privilege accorded its scientists under the Soviet system, and the feeling of scientists there now that the work should cease.

Weather

More Sun

By Michael Morgan
Staff Meteorologist

Slightly warmer weather is expected today and Saturday as an anticyclone drifts to our southeast. An approaching cold front will slow down west of the area later in the weekend -- increasing our risks of showers.

Today: Partly cloudy. High 56F<\p>(13C).

Tonight: Partly cloudy and milder. Low 48F<\p>(9C).

Saturday: Mostly sunny and milder. High 65F<\p>(18C). Low 50F<\p>(10C).

Sunday: Variably cloudy with scattered showers. High around 60F<\p>(16C).