~ Le ViÍt Nam, aujourd'hui. ~
The Vietnam News

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[Year 1999]
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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 in 1975.
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 relations.

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 the year-end.
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 year.
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 flooded back.

``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 Hagel.

Reuters - August 16, 1999.