Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet left for the US yesterday on the first visit by a post-war head of state to the former enemy nation, officials and state media said.
Triet is due to meet US President George W. Bush on Friday at the White House, where the two leaders will oversee the signing of an agreement that aims to pave the way for an eventual free trade pact.
The Vietnamese president, accompanied by Cabinet ministers and a business delegation, was due to arrive late yesterday in New York, where he was set to visit Wall Street and witness the signing of several business deals this week before leaving on Saturday.
The visit comes at the invitation of Bush, who attended an APEC summit in Hanoi last November, shortly before Vietnam joined the WTO in January.
Many US companies are hoping to start up or step up business in Vietnam.
During Triet's visit, aircraft maker Boeing hopes to secure an order with Vietnam Airlines, and corporate deals are also expected in the energy, telecommunications, information technology and financial services sectors.
The visit, which will also take Triet to Los Angeles, has been clouded by a series of arrests and trials of dissidents in the communist country, and the White House has indicated Bush will express his "deep concern" to Triet.
Vietnam released two prominent pro-democracy activists shortly before the trip, which has been hailed by both sides as a key step in normalizing relations between the two countries after their war in the 1960s and 1970s.
Washington lifted its trade embargo against Vietnam in 1994 and restored full ties the following year, two decades after the fall of Saigon. A trade pact in 2000 led to a six-fold rise in two-way trade to US$9.7 billion last year.
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