U.S. opens new consulate building in former Saigon
HO CHI MINH CITY - The United States
opened a new consulate in the
former Saigon Monday, nearly a
quarter century after a dramatic airlift
from its old embassy marked the end
of the Vietnam War.
U.S. senator Chuck Hagel, a
Vietnam War veteran, helped open
the new consulate and said the event
marked an important step in ties
between the one-time enemies.
``This is...symbolic in many ways but
it's very real in many ways also,''
Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska
and member of the U.S. Senate
Foreign Relations Committee, told
Reuters Television at the opening
ceremony in Ho Chi Minh City.
``It represents a strong base that we
can build from for a relationship that
is very important for both countries,
for Asia and the world,'' added
Hagel, a decorated infantryman who
fought in Vietnam in the late 1960s.
The United States and Vietnam
normalized diplomatic relations 20
years after the Vietnam War ended
U.S. Ambassador to Hanoi Pete
Peterson, himself a veteran of the
war, said the new consulate would
help strengthen U.S. business
interests in Vietnam, especially as the
two countries approach full trade
Last month the U.S. and Vietnam
reached ``agreement in principle'' on
a long-awaited trade pact, and
enactment of the deal is expected by
Washington previously had a limited
consular presence in Ho Chi Minh
City, renamed after Vietnam's
revolutionary leader, but the new
building will upgrade those activities
and allow Vietnamese to obtain most
types of visas to travel to the U.S.
The city is Vietnam's largest and also
accounts for 30 percent of the
country's total output.
Hagel and Peterson were among 300
guests who watched the U.S. flag
raised at the new consulate building,
which stands next door to a vacant
lot that housed the U.S. embassy in
Saigon during the Vietnam War.
The former U.S. embassy building,
remembered most for the drama that
played out in and around its
compound in the last days of the war
in late April 1975, including a final
helicopter rescue of embassy staff
from its rooftop, was demolished last
For Hagel, who was awarded two
Purple Hearts for his Vietnam
service, the trip marked the first time
he had set foot on Vietnamese soil
since his tour of duty.
He was accompanied by his brother
Tom, who fought in the same unit
during the conflict, and the memories
``Like in any war, there are bad
memories and there are good
memories. But I think you do not let
the bad memories control, or dictate
or set the course for the future,'' said
Reuters - August 16, 1999.