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Another delay for ambassadorial nominee to Vietnam

The Senate hearing for President Clinton's ambassadorial nominee to Vietnam has been delayed until early September, all but ensuring that the United States will not send an ambassador to Hanoi this year.

The delay _ combined with the tight election-year congressional schedule in the fall and some senators' lingering opposition to improving relations with Vietnam _ appears to doom the nomination of Rep. Pete Peterson, D-Marianna.

The lack of an ambassador could hamper U.S. businesses competing with other nations in the race to invest in Vietnam.

Janet Heininger, American University's assistant professor of international politics and diplomacy, said: "I can't imagine this nomination going through. This one has been going according to script and (the Republicans) have been awfully clever in looking for ways that they can appear to be responsive to the nomination so they don't have to act on it."

Republican Senate lawyers have questioned whether Peterson, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam and a third-term Democrat, is covered by a constitutional provision that bans a sitting member of Congress from serving in a new government position.

Late Friday, lawyers from the Clinton administration sent a 16-page legal brief to lawyers in the Republican-controlled Senate responding to the problem and urging the Senate to move ahead with the nomination.

In order to send Peterson to Vietnam, the administration said it would not formally appoint him to the post until January, when the congressional year ends and he no longer is a member of Congress. They say the Senate still could confirm him before the official appointment.