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Peterson arrives
The job as Ambassador
Representing American business
Getting Washington's attention
Peterson testifies before Congress
Peterson finds romance
Vi Le's background

click to enlargePeterson arrives
Pete Peterson arrived in Vietnam on May 9, 1997. A crowd of both Vietnamese and Americans came to the airport to welcome the first U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam since 1975, and to witness an historic turning point in Vietnamese-American relations.

"I went back to Vietnam not because I had to. I went back because I wanted to. I saw the Vietnamese at their very worst, and they saw me at my very worst as well. I can't do anything about what happened yesterday, but I can help move forward positively and constructively on what happens tomorrow. And that's why I'm in Vietnam."

Peterson has become a familiar and popular figure on Hanoi streets. People often stop him and ask to have their picture taken with him. In his first year as Ambassador, Peterson traveled to 31 of Vietnam's 61 provinces.

"The ultimate foreign policy between our country and the host country is really based on the success of the development of our relationship with individuals. We're not just building a relationship with a country. We're building a relationship with the individuals in that country."

The job as Ambassador
But in his job as ambassador, Peterson faces enormous challenges.

The Vietnamese government is slowly adopting international economic standards and creating an infrastructure to accommodate its transition into a free market economy. Peterson is anxious to accelerate the pace. A series of agreements between the two former enemies need to be ratified to fully normalize the two countries' relationship. At the top of Peterson's agenda is a bilateral trade agreement which would spur economic growth in Vietnam and provide investment opportunities for American companies.

Representing American business
American business also needs Peterson's assistance. Over 400 American companies have opened offices in Vietnam since the trade embargo was lifted in 1994. Current U.S. two-way trade investment is nearly one billion dollars, with another one billion dollars in direct investment. At lunches of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City businessmen trade stories underlining the impact the slow pace of government reform and the Asian financial crisis has had on their bottom line.

click to enlargeGetting Washington's attention
Vietnam is not a high priority for the U.S. Government. Peterson finds it difficult to get Washington's attention on many Vietnam-related issues. He regularly travels back to Capitol Hill regularly to seek support for programs he needs to accomplish his agenda. Peterson's testimony before Congress in June, 1998 to insure passage of the Jackson-Vanik Waiver outlined the importance of the relationship unfolding between the United States and Vietnam.

click to enlarge

Vi Le's background
Vi Le's family left Hanoi in 1954 when the French fled the country. Vi was born in Saigon in 1956. A year later her family left Vietnam and for the next twenty years hopskotched around Asia until settling in Australia in 1977. "I grew up in a very international, expatriate community, "she said. "I spoke four languages by the time I was ten." Educated in French, American and Australian schools, she graduated from the University of Melbourne with an economics degree and later obtained a graduate diploma in corporate finance. In 1981, she joined ANZ bank in Melbourne, and was sent to Vietnam in 1993 to establish the bank's operations there.

"Culturally, rediscovering my roots has been interesting. I was quite charmed by Hanoi and I've found an affinity for Vietnam I never had before."

Peterson finds romance

Within a few weeks of his arrival in Hanoi. Peterson met Vi Le, who at the time headed the Australia Trade Commission to Vietnam. Their dates ranged from elegant diplomatic dinner parties to hole-in-the-wall noodle shops, where Peterson would take Vi on the back of his motorcycle to eat pho, a popular noodle soup.

"I certainly wasn't looking for a romance here. That was not on my agenda in coming here. In fact I thought that would not be a possible circumstance ever again in my life. But when it came by it was just obvious. It was a major hit."

click to enlargeThe couple announced their engagement at Christmas, 1997 and were married on May 23, 1998 in the Hanoi Cathedral, just ten blocks from the "Hanoi Hilton."

"We were not looking for some international relationship here. We were looking for just the two of us."

The Man: Peterson
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