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Behind the scenes of Donald Trump’s bizarre White House meeting with the Prime Minister of Vietnam.


In mid-May 2017, Robert Light Heiser.New US Trade Representative arrives in Vietnam for APEC Ministerial Meeting Light Heiser had a friendly and charming style, but his visit was devastating in terms of substance. Representatives of Vietnam, other APEC countries, and the US business community were stunned by the arrogance of his remarks and his willingness to sabotage the international trade agenda in his favor. The “America First” approach. Until then, a visit to the United States and a meeting with President Trump at the White House was scheduled for Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc.

When the Prime Minister arrived in New York City on May 30, American investors in Vietnam – including businessman Phil Falcon (my Harvard classmate and the largest American investor in Vietnam) and Kurt Campbell, were delighted by one of his advisers. Said there Business delegation at a gathering of star-studded investors at the InterContinental New York Barclay Hotel. At the event, incentives and opportunities to do more business with the United States were highlighted, and Phúc promised that by 2035, 30% of Vietnamese citizens would be members of the middle class. He called for reforms in Vietnam and its upgraded credit rating, and promised to increase purchases of US exports. American investors were impressed.

I was on a flight from New York to Washington with the Prime Minister. He returned to my seat on the plane and asked how he could better communicate with President Trump. “Be yourself,” I insisted. “Use visual aid, but don’t rely too much on notes.” Maps will be good too, I suggested.

By the time of Phúc’s visit, US companies had completed more than 8 8 billion worth of business deals, mostly for high-tech products – including General Electric’s sales of approximately 6 6 billion. In Washington, Commerce Minister Wilbur Ross formally signed the largest agreements with the Prime Minister.

However, our meeting with Russia before the signing was particularly troubling. The 81-year-old secretary seemed to be missing, unable to find his place in his briefing notes, nor to decide which trade challenges to focus on. Its translator was also helpless, and we had to rely on the Prime Minister. Ross focused on unclear agricultural controversies over crab, catfish, cheese, and veterinary medicine, all of which are mentioned in the appendix to his briefing paper. These issues were to come under the purview of Agriculture Secretary Soni Pardo. The meeting with Perdo was even more fruitful, as both leaders enjoyed resolving issues.

Phúc’s meeting with Lighthaiser was also helpful, especially since Lighthaiser had recently visited Vietnam. At a dinner hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce this evening, Light Heiser introduced the Prime Minister, saying: “Our trade deficit presents new challenges and shows us how to further improve our critical trade relations. There is a lot of potential. ”

The cover of the book is Impossible for Nothing: America's Reconciliation with Vietnam by Ted Ossius.Nothing is impossible: US reconciliation with Vietnam.“By Ted Osius. (Rutgers University Press / Photo courtesy of the author)

Phúc said Vietnam was eager to increase trade and investment with the United States. “In terms of trade, it is understandable for us to expand our trade, to make the United States Vietnam’s largest trading partner and to promote fair and equitable bilateral trade relations,” he said. Vietnam wants the United States to facilitate imports of textiles and garments, footwear, seafood, fruits and other products.

When I was the Foreign Policy Officer for Vice President Al Gore, I visited the Oval Office several times. As ambassador, I went with the leader of the Communist Party of Vietnam to meet with President Barack Obama. Nothing could prepare me for the strange situation of President Trump’s meeting with the Prime Minister of Vietnam on May 31, 2017.

The Oval Office looked the same. Wall-to-ceiling windows overlook the south lawn. The famous “Resolve” desk dominated the room. But it didn’t feel like the Oval Office that I remember. In President Obama’s time, the rooms outside the Oval Office resounded with activity, while the office itself was quiet. Now the situation was reversed. The West Wing seemed terribly calm. Inside the Oval Office, people shouted in and out. Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell and a group of other advisers walk around the “Resolve” desk, where Presidents Rutherford Hayes, Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy ruled. No one is left to make room for newcomers, and the office seems more crowded with each passing moment.


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Standing behind a group of aides and trying to get the president’s attention, National Security Adviser General HR McMaster tried to introduce me to President Trump: “Mr. President, this is our ambassador to Vietnam. Are. ”

I stared at the tight orange helmet as the president looked up and said, “You’re lucky. That’s a good thing.”

“I’m so lucky,” I said. “I love my job and feel honored to do it.”

“So, who are we meeting?” The president asked

“Prime Minister of Vietnam,” McMaster replied.

“What’s his name?”

“Nguyen Xuân Phúc,” said a senior National Security Council official. “Poems with a book.”

“You mean folk?” President Trump asked. “I knew a guy named Fok Yu. Really. I rented him a restaurant. When he picked up the phone, he answered, ‘Fok Yu.’ His business went bad. People didn’t like him. He lost the restaurant. ”

Everyone there laughed out of duty.

“Mr. President,” McMaster intervened, “we only have five minutes for this briefing.”

More people slipped in and out. I wondered how anyone could focus on all the chaos. After hearing that Vietnam has a trade surplus with the United States and a trade deficit with China, the president intervened: “The Chinese always make big deals. Except for me. I did a great job in China.”

President Trump then instructed Light Heiser to “reduce the US trade deficit with Vietnam to zero in four years.”

Light Heiser nodded, probably not knowing how to respond. It was an impossible task. He then tried to divert the president’s attention. “Ambassador. [to Vietnam] He is trying to scrap a deal to build a new embassy.

A Light Heiser staff member told me the truth that President Trump likes groundbreaking ceremonies. He enjoyed holding a gold shovel for photographers.

“Am I visiting?” The President asked, apparently unaware that he had agreed to attend the APEC Autumn Summit in Vietnam. Then he disappeared into another room.

Jared Kishner, the president’s son-in-law and White House adviser, was focusing on our conversation about building a new embassy in Hanoi. “How much will it cost?” Kishner asked. I replied that the US embassy in Beijing was worth more than a billion dollars. A new embassy in Hanoi could be built for at least half the price of land.

“500 million?” Kishner looked surprised. “That’s a lot. Why are we spending so much? If we’re going to give it to them, we have to take something back.”

I wondered if he understood that we were trying to build a new embassy for the United States, not for Vietnam. I told him, “Our current lease space is dilapidated.” “It was considered temporary 22 years ago. It is not safe. A truck bomb could move towards it and blow us up in an instant. Like in Benghazi.”

Kishner had already formed an opinion. “If they’re going to get it. [embassy]”We need something in return,” he said. Let them know that if they reduce our trade deficit to zero, we will make it.

I reiterated my argument for the safety of American citizens, but Kishner’s dark eyes moved elsewhere. He was no longer listening.


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Leaving the Oval Office, I stood in the hallway and spoke with Vice President Mike Pence. He had just returned from Jakarta, Indonesia, where he had addressed the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. I told Pence that Vietnam had warmly welcomed his speech. Smiling, his blue eyes focused on me, the vice president showed an extraordinary ability to make me feel like I was the most important person in the world.

We waited until President Trump and Prime Minister Phúc met in the Oval Office with “one-on-one” interpreters and about a hundred television and print journalists. President Trump noted that the United States has “a huge trade deficit with Vietnam, which we hope will be balanced soon. We hope we will be able to do that.”

The Prime Minister showed the President a map of the South China Sea as a reminder that China’s behavior is most related to Vietnam. The President and the Prime Minister then proceeded to the Cabinet Room, where the Vice President, Cabinet members and I joined them. President Trump has once again urged Prime Minister Phúc to reduce Vietnam’s trade deficit with the United States from 32 32 billion in four years to zero. He also urged Vietnam to increase pressure on North Korea, and called on Vietnam to expedite the acceptance of Vietnamese refugees under deportation orders. I knew the source of the third request: I saw it. [Steven] Miller slipped into the president’s ear and whispered as he walked into the cabinet room. It was left to the Prime Minister of Communist Vietnam to praise the virtues of free and fair trade. “Trade leads to growth and employment. Our two economies are more complementary than competitive,” he said.

President Trump spoke again about the trade deficit and said we must make further progress before the APEC summit. The president told the prime minister that Saudi Arabia had placed orders worth 4 450 billion during the president’s recent visit. “Jared. [Kushner] And Rex [Tillerson] Really worked hard, “he said. The message was clear: the presidential tour came with a price tag.

When McMaster suggested that “an aircraft carrier visit would be a historic and important landmark,” the Prime Minister cautiously replied that Vietnam “appreciated the move to bring an aircraft carrier. When we have the capacity.” So we will receive it. ” “We are not in a position to do that yet,” he added.

Vietnamese leaders needed to gauge the Chinese response before setting a date for the first aircraft carrier’s visit. In a joint statement issued after the prime minister’s visit to the White House, the Vietnamese said only that the two leaders “saw the possibility of a US aircraft carrier visiting a Vietnamese port.”

As President Trump drove the prime minister out of the West Wing, the group approached Mark Cosotz, one of the president’s lawyers. Kasowitz also represented Falcone. In December 2016, the Cassowites and Falcon arranged for President-elect Trump to hold a telephone conversation with the Prime Minister of Vietnam.

The Cossacks smiled at the Prime Minister. He seems to be waiting outside to show that he has access to the West Wing and therefore has “juice” with the current president. Surprised to see him, the Prime Minister smiled, his head tilted to one side.

“Do you know him?” The president asked, and the prime minister admitted he did. The Cossacks shook my hand. “You know that too?” The president asked me I nodded.

Following the December 2016 phone call, I wrote a letter to my bosses in the Obama administration’s State Department, stating that such a call, orchestrated by Falcon, showed the Prime Minister of Vietnam access to the new US President. Can be purchased One answer.

After a meeting of real estate lawyers from Hanoi with real estate lawyers in Hanoi on January 12, 2017, a colleague at the embassy and I compared the notes. “I think I need to take a shower,” he said. I also wanted to clear the scent of corruption. Before meeting me, the Cossacks asked a friend, “What good do we do the ambassador? What do we need to give him to get him?” My friend patiently explained that it is the responsibility of any American ambassador to make American businesses successful. I didn’t need any leverage or quad pro to do my job.

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