From prisoner to ambassador: Peterson returns to Vietnam
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May 9, 1997
Web posted at: 1:43 p.m. EDT (1743 GMT)
HANOI, Vietnam (CNN) -- The first U.S. ambassador to post-war
Vietnam arrived in Hanoi on Friday, proclaiming a new era of
relations between the former foes and chance to move past
their history of conflict and suspicion.
Ambassador Douglas Peterson -- a former prisoner of war in
Vietnam -- was met at the airport by about 100 well-wishers,
including war veterans and business leaders.
"Today we exchange ambassadors, marking the full
normalization of diplomatic relations between our two
countries," Peterson said. "This is a historical event and
the beginning of a new era of constructive relations."
Peterson was gunned down on an almost moonless night in 1966,
when his Air Force bomber was struck by an anti-aircraft
missile near Hanoi. He was released from the notorious "Hanoi
Hilton" prison in 1973, after more than six years of torture
and solitary confinement in a dank prison cell.
Peterson, 61, returns hoping to
serve as an example of someone who survived the worst of the
Former enemies embrace
Waving U.S. and Vietnamese flags, the crowd at Hanoi's Noi
Bai airport welcomed the ambassador's message of moving
forward from the legacy of war.
As Peterson made his way to an awaiting car, a former North
Vietnam militiaman, Mai Van On, greeted the new ambassador
with a bear hug -- a warm smile spreading across his face. .
"The war belongs in the past," On said. "The Vietnamese
people value anything the United States can bring to develop
On, 79, won fame in the United States when he saved U.S. Sen.
McCain in 1967 after McCain was shot down over Hanoi.
Vietnam's ambassador to the United States, Le Van Bang, 50,
was due to arrive in Washington later Friday.
MIA search to be priority
Peterson said his priority would be to strive for accounting
of the 2,124 American troops still listed as missing from the
"My mission is to advance U.S. interests in Vietnam and our
highest national priority is to advance the fullest possible
accounting for persons missing from the war," the ambassador
He also noted that bilateral relations were moving ahead in
other areas and expressed hope that a comprehensive trade
agreement -- a prerequisite for Hanoi to gain most favored
nation status -- would be signed soon.
President Clinton in 1994 lifted a decades-old trade embargo
on Hanoi and established diplomatic ties the following year.
But a trade pact and most-favored nation have yet to be
Many are optimistic that Peterson will bridge the gap between
the two sides.
"He understands Vietnam. Here is a guy who sacrificed over
six years of his life in a prisoner of war camp in Vietnam,"
said Eric Rehmann of America Trade and Investment Consulting
Co. (VATICO) Vietnam. VATICO became the first U.S. company
to operate officially in Vietnam since 1975. "The real
purpose is to move us forward, not backward, so I think he's
the right man for the job."
Bangkok Bureau Chief Tom Mintier and
Reuters contributed to this report.
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