At that crucial moment, along with others on that historic path, he had overcome his personal concerns to look for a futuristic vision, one where Vietnam determined to seek out the “rainbow” in its relationship with the US after decades of thunderstorm. 10 years later, it would be hard to deny the validity of such decisions.

Ten years have passed since the US and Vietnam established Comprehensive partnership, during your tenure as the Ambassador of Vietnam to the US. What is your feeling, looking back at the beginning of where it all started? 

Yes, indeed. At this moment, memories and emotions all flood back to me, as I recalled my time of participating in the preparation and witnessing the establishment of Vietnam-US Comprehensive partnership exactly 10 years ago.

Till this day, I am still moved whenever I reminisced of moments from the high-level meeting at the White House between US President Barack Obama and President Truong Tan Sang.

At the end of the meeting, President Sang had handed over to his US counterpart a copy of the letter that President Ho Chi Minh sent to US President Harry Truman on February 16th, 1946. In the document, President Ho Chi Minh declared that Vietnam’s goals were “becoming completely independent and establishing a full-fledged cooperation” with the US. President Sang told President Obama: “Our decision of upgrading the Vietnam-US to Comprehensive partnership today reflects the will of President Ho Chi Minh 67 years ago”.

Immediately after finishing the meeting, the two countries released the Joint Statement of establishing the Comprehensive partnership to “provide an overarching framework for advancing the relationship” on the basic principles of respecting each other’s political systems, independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. This was the first official document that the US specifically stated that it respects Vietnam’s political system.

 Ambassador Nguyen Quoc Cuong participated in the preparation and witnessing the establishment of Vietnam-US Comprehensive partnership exactly 10 years ago. (Photo: QT)

If we called the normalization of diplomatic relations a “historic” point in the Vietnam-US ties, what would the July 25th, 2013 milestone account for, Ambassador?

I believe that such event was another historic moment in US-Vietnam relationship as well.

First, it marked a level of maturity in the bilateral relations since the normalization in 1995. With that new milestone, the relationship has turned over a new leaf, from former enemies to Comprehensive partners.

Since then, the two countries have started full-fledged, equal and mutual beneficial cooperation in 9 prioritized areas, from politics and diplomacy, security and defense to economic and trade, science and technology, education and training, healthcare, tourism and people-to-people ties…

It also served as a landmark of Vietnam’s foreign policy of independence, self-reliance. From that point, Vietnam has established strategic partnership and comprehensive partnership with all of the world’s major powers, important partners, including all the members of the United Nations Security Council.

It is noteworthy that 67 years ago from that day, the US declined the requests from President Ho Chi Minh of establishing a “full-fledged cooperation”. Yet in 2013, it was the US who proposed to upgrade its relationship with Vietnam to a Comprehensive partnership. This had proven that Vietnam’s power, international standing and prestige have grown in strides for the last seven decades.

In fact, everything happened during the last 10 years have proven that Comprehensive partnership was a correct decision. It has opened many important cooperation opportunities between the two countries, as well as the implementation of Vietnam’s foreign policy of independence, self-reliance, with widening and deepening international integration.

Dear Ambassador, as someone who has accompanied the Vietnam-US relations for the last decade, what were some of your most memorable stories?

To be honest, I had quite a few interesting memories. I have shared a portion of those to domestic media agencies, including your report, on several occasions. Today, I just want to touch on some of my memorable moments related to President Truong Tan Sang’s visit to the US and the establishment of Comprehensive partnership. This is the first time that I have shared such stories to the public.

Our first story began in April 2013, three months before President Sang’s visit to the US. I was surprised when the Foreign Ministry requested that I returned to Vietnam to directly report on the bilateral relations.

Normally, with high-level visits of senior leaders, Ambassadors will be responsible in coordinating with domestic agencies in their preparation at the host countries. It is rare for Ambassador to be recalled to directly report for such occasions.

After my arrival, I was arranged to meet and report directly to each senior leader. At those meetings, I also boldly suggested that the time has come for the two countries to upgrade the relationship. I characterized my action as “boldly” because at the time, there could have been other opinions regarding our country’s relationship with the US and even then, I believe that such opinions were totally understandable.

However, it was the same story on the side of the US! After that, it became clearer to me that at the time, our leaders had been extremely careful, taking all possible factors into consideration in order to create a strong domestic consensus in establishing a new, comprehensive framework of Vietnam-US for years to come.

Another story happened during the visit. Immediately after his arrival in Washington DC, President Truong Tan Sang had attended numerous events with different agencies and organizations prior to his important meetings with President Obama.

Accompanying him on the same car, I realized that a part of his leg was in pain and caused difficulty for him whenever he walked out or entered the car.

I immediately asked him about the state of his leg and whether he would like to take some medicines. However, he turned down my offer and simply stated that his leg had always causing that problem for decades. During the war, he was caught and tortured, yet he refused to provide information to his interrogators. Losing temper, an American advisor forcefully trampled on Mr. Sang’s knee, breaking the latter’s leg. The wound had healed, but the after effect remained, as his knee continued to act up whenever the weather changed.

Listening to that story, I found myself sitting there, speechless for a while. After that, during my meeting with President Obama’s advisor at the National Security Council, the individual responsible in organizing the visit, I have recited this story. I also added that back in the War, many senior leaders of Vietnam had fought, received and endured lasting wounds, like President Truong Tan Sang. Among those, many had had American bullet lodged in their bodies, some had even lost their closest relatives. Nevertheless, 67 years later, they reached a consensus to put aside the past, to overcome differences and to agree to establish a Comprehensive partnership with the US for further development. That was nothing short of a historic opportunity.

The advisor agreed with my assessment and asked whether he could report this detail to the US President. I stated that it was entirely up to you. Next, he asked me if I had any concerns regarding the visits. I requested the US on guaranteeing that there would not be any negative incidents affecting the outcomes of the trip. The advisor immediately responded that I could count on the American, as the US would take its utmost consideration in organizing the trips without any regrettable “incidents”.

Luckily, everything happened as promised. The meeting between our President and his US counterpart occurred in an open, straightforward atmosphere with successes.

Perhaps, listening to the above story, the US had come to understand more about Vietnamese leaders and highly appreciated our leadership’s determination in agreeing to develop the relationship with the US, for the interests of the two peoples, the sake of peace, stability and prosperity of the region and the world.

 The high-level meeting between US President Barack Obama and President Truong Tan Sang upgrading the Vietnam-US relations to Comprehensive Partnership. (Source: VNA) 

The journey of Vietnam-US relationship will definitely continue further than that, as both countries’ “belongings” are gradually filled with trust. What is your expectation for the next “shore” of this relationship? 

I was delighted when General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong had substantive exchange through his phone call with US President Joe Biden by the end of March.

Two top senior leaders agreed to positively assess on the development of the bilateral relations since the establishment of the Comprehensive partnership 10 years ago.

It is noteworthy that both leaders have agreed on directing authorities and agencies to exchange details to promote the relationship, in the spirit of further elevation.

Two leaders also agreed upon exchanging high-level delegations and directing relevant agencies to organize those “in appropriate time”. Both countries are going to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the establishment of Comprehensive partnership; should this year be listed as an “appropriate time” for such high-level visits as well?

I understand that relevant authorities are working closely to actively implement agreements between two senior leaders. I definitely would not want to “get ahead of myself” by making predictions. Perhaps, we should patiently wait and see what lies ahead at the “shore” that you mentioned. Personally, I am optimistic and confident in the development of this rather unique US-Vietnam relationship for years to come.

Phương Hằng/ Theo Báo Thế giới và Việt Nam