Source AP ©

Vietnamese president expected to visit US on June 22

Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet is expected to visit the United States on June 22, despite mounting concerns in Washington about the communist nation's recent crackdown on dissidents.

A U.S. Embassy official said Tuesday that Washington has extended a formal invitation to Triet, who would be the first Vietnamese head of state to visit Washington since the Vietnam War ended in 1975.

Triet's visit has been expected since U.S. President George W. Bush visited Vietnam for a regional meeting last November. Negotiators are still working out the details of the visit, but are planning for a June 22 arrival, according to the official, who demanded anonymity in accordance with embassy practice.

Bush met last month with Vietnamese-American pro-democracy activists who are pressing Vietnam to allow independent political parties, and Washington has expressed dismay over recent arrests of dissidents.

But even as the U.S. has criticized Vietnam's human rights record, the relationship between the two nations has grown closer in recent years. They implemented a wide-ranging trade agreement in 2001, and since then two-way trade has been booming, reaching nearly US$10 billion last year.

The former foes have also exchanged regular high-level visits in recent years. Former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Vietnam in June last year, and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice came to Hanoi in November 2006.

Former Vietnamese Defense Minister Pham Van Tra visited the United States in 2003, and in June 2005 Phan Van Khai became the first Vietnamese prime minister to visit Washington.