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FORMER POW LEFT HATE AT THE BACK DOOR IN '73

Pete Peterson remembers his first trip to Vietnam.

The Air Force pilot was flying his jet fighter over that country 30 years ago when the North Vietnamese shot him down.He parachuted into a tree in the dark, breaking his arm, leg and shoulder. During the next 61/2 years, as a prisoner of war, he was tortured, imprisoned in solitary confinement and interrogated.

Peterson will get quite a different reception next fall if the Senate confirms his nomination as the first U.S. ambassador to Vietnam in 21 years.

There will be an official greeting at the airport and a ceremonial presentation of credentials to the Vietnamese government.

"It will be quite different," Peterson, a Florida congressman, told The Associated Press. "I have no problem shaking hands. I essentially left my hate at the door back in 1973."

President Clinton's nomination of Peterson on Friday capped the politically tricky process of establishing full relations between the one-time enemies.

It follows the lifting of a longstanding U.S. trade embargo against Vietnam and the opening of an embassy in Hanoi last summer.

Vietnam does not yet have an ambassador to the United States. That country's top diplomat in Washington is the charge d'affaires, Le Van Bang, 47, who was a member of the a youth brigade fixing bombed roads during the war.

Peterson's appointment must be confirmed by the Senate, which has voiced some reservationsabout establishing full relations with Vietnam.

Some senators are worried that Vietnam has not given full information on more than 2,000 servicemen from the war still listed as missing.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., anticipated difficulties with the confirmation process.

"I do think it will be difficult to pass the nomination, given the circumstances," Daschle told a news conference Friday.

But Peterson was optimistic that problems will be ironed out. He expects to take his post in September or October, if all goes well.

Relaxing in his Capitol Hill office, Peterson, 60, explained why it was important to put the hurt and anguish aside and begin a healing process.

"I know it's hard. . . . I still have some residual pains, but we have to start using the term Vietnam without adding the suffix war. We need to start making Vietnam with the suffix country," said Peterson.

"If we can do that then we will allow Vietnam to enter into the community of nations in a peaceful process as opposed to a potential adversarial one that might erupt if we were still disengaged," he said.

Peterson stressed he would continue working to determine the fate of the missing servicemen - among them some 20 friends.