Regardless of numerous challenges, the administration of President Bill Clinton reached a historic landmark in lifting the commercial embargo against Vietnam in 1994 and normalizing diplomatic relations with the Southeast Asian country in 1995.
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A month after the normalization, Vietnam opened an embassy in Washington, D.C.
The then-ambassador of Vietnam to the U.S., Le Van Bang, recalled that he was honored to have many meetings with senior leaders during his first days of returning to Hanoi.
“Back in Hanoi, I often spent whole days writing reports on my job and the situation in the U.S.
“But then-Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet even told me to drop by his office in the evening to further discuss the affairs.
“Once, he told me to come at 8:00 pm, or an hour earlier if it rained,” former Ambassador Bang said.
Former Trade Minister Le Van Triet recounted the period before the normalization with the U.S., “Our nation was under renovation then, but the embargo by the U.S. was still in effect.
“It was very difficult.
“How could we have reached success if the U.S. had kept isolating Vietnam?”
Senior Vietnamese leaders then consulted many intellectuals, including officials of the former Saigon regime, to find an escape from the U.S. embargo.
Then-PM Kiet once visited Doctor Nguyen Van Hao, the former deputy prime minister of the U.S.-backed Republic of Vietnam who was living in France, to seek his advice.
In Washington, President Clinton selected the POW/MIA issue as the top condition for normalization with Vietnam.
U.S. assets worth US$200 million were left in Saigon after 1975, and when Vietnam was reunified, they were well resolved.
U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher speaks at a ceremony to open the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi.
The Clinton administration opened numerous important doors for Vietnam to head toward normalization.
In 1993, a series of major American corporations such as Bank of America, Philip Morris, Vatico, IBM and Caterpillar opened representative offices in Vietnam.
In October the same year, Phan Van Khai, who was then deputy prime minister of Vietnam, flew to the U.S. and met Secretary of State Warren Christopher, and Washington announced it would not consider Hanoi its foe anymore.
Three months later, on February 3, 1994, Ambassador Bang, who was in New York, received a phone call from the U.S. Department of State asking him to return to Washington, D.C., for there would be “an important piece of news for you and your nation.”
Ambassador Bang said he felt the normalization was near.
At 5:00 pm, the ambassador was at the house of Virginia Foote – then president of the U.S.-Vietnam Trade Council – to watch the official announcement of the U.S. president on the lifting of the embargo.
The American friends shook hands in congratulations, but Ambassador Bang just shed tears.
The Vietnamese diplomat recalled the advice of former President Le Duc Anh before he left for work in the U.S., “I know you may encounter challenges from our Vietnamese people living in the U.S.
“If they scold or insult you, just hang on and listen to them honestly because they are also of our Vietnamese origin.”
Then-United Nations General Secretary Boutros Boutros-Ghali invited Vietnam to take part in a conference on trade promotion and helped create a chance for the Vietnamese delegation to meet their U.S. partners.
Vietnam’s then-Trade Minister Le Van Triet met his U.S. counterpart Ron Brown thanks to the chance.
On July 11, 1995, President Clinton officially announced the normalization of diplomatic relations with Vietnam, and Hanoi opened its embassy in Washington, D.C., on August 5 the same year.
The embassy building was the one owned by the South Vietnam regime before 1975.