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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

20 Years On, Hanoi Seeks U.S. Amity

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam -- Reconciliation between Vietnam and the United States, and between Vietnamese themselves, will be the watchword of Sunday's celebration of the 20th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, the top official in the city that was once called Saigon said Friday.


"We would not do anything to evoke the ghost of past animosity between our two countries," Truong Tan Sang, chairman of the People's Committee of Ho Chi Minh City, told a news conference.


"We are ready to close the chapter on the past and we are looking forward to a better future," he said.


"As far as normalization of relations between the United States and Vietnam, the ball is in the U.S. court," he added, echoing central government policy.


Sang, who wields power in Vietnam's biggest city in a job akin to mayor, said the spirit of reconciliation also applied to ex-officers and soldiers of the armed forces of the former U.S.-backed South Vietnam, defeated on April 30, 1975, and to Vietnamese who fled the country as boat people.


"We would like to reopen our arms to all our brethren who are on the other side because our policy is to consolidate our strength for the future of the country," he said.


"Let bygones be bygones, bury the past and look forward to the future. This is not only true in relations between Vietnam and the United States but also means reconciliation among ourselves," he said.


City authorities were putting final touches to preparations for a public meeting and parade Sunday, following a big meeting of government leaders Saturday in Hanoi, the capital.


Most of the city's 4.5 million people and the growing foreign business community in Vietnam's commercial hub were focusing on future prosperity rather than past conflict.


A U.S. business leader said the anniversary of Vietnamese communist forces' 1975 victory over the U.S.-backed Saigon regime highlighted the need for full U.S.-Vietnamese relations.


"Twenty years is a long time," said Rick Mayo-Smith, head of the Ho Chi Minh City chapter of the American Chamber of Commerce. "We look at this as an opportunity to finally put the war behind us and start looking forward."


The two countries currently maintain only diplomatic liaison offices rather than full embassies.


The Vietnamese government is pushing as hard as it can for diplomatic relations with Washington and has about six months in which to persuade President Bill Clinton to forget the political burden of having dodged the Vietnam War draft.


Stepping up Hanoi's rhetoric on the issue, Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet said this week that it was "high time the United States and Vietnam established normal diplomatic ties as well as full economic and commercial relations."


If the deed is not done before the first primary elections of the 1996 U.S. presidential campaign late this year, it will be more difficult for Clinton to risk a decision likely to antagonize a small but vocal anti-Vietnam lobby.


Since Clinton lifted an economic embargo against Vietnam in February 1994, American companies have pledged $517 million toward projects in Vietnam.


U.S. companies operating in Vietnam include oil concerns, two banks and consumer-product manufacturers and distributors attracted by a market of 72 million people.


Mayo-Smith, who manages a venture-capital fund, said the 150 members of his chapter are pushing for normal relations between Hanoi and Washington.


"The American business community is urging President Clinton, even if he doesn't normalize relations straightaway, at least to remove the trade restrictions that exist to give us a level playing field," he said.