CANBERRA, Australia – Vietnam's prime minister said on Thursday he plans to travel to the United States next month in what would be the highest-level visit by a Vietnamese leader since the end of the war between the two countries 30 years ago.
Prime Minister Phan Van Khai (search) said arrangements were being made for him to visit Washington in June. It was not immediately clear who Khai would meet with.
"Thirty years has passed since the end of the war; this is the first-ever visit by a leader of a unified Vietnam to the United States," Khai told reporters on the first day of a visit to Australia.
Communist Vietnam (search) recently marked the 30th anniversary of the war's end with a colorful parade of floats — some emblazoned with American business logos — down the same boulevard where North Vietnamese tanks rolled to victory against a U.S.-backed government.
During the visit, Khai will likely bring up Vietnam's strong desire to join the World Trade Organization (search). The former foes are currently involved in bilateral negotiations that would help pave the way for Vietnam's entry to the global trade body.
Khai would be the highest-ranking leader to visit Washington since the Vietnam War ended on April 30, 1975, when former U.S.-backed South Vietnam surrendered to communist forces. In addition to Khai, Vietnam's other top leaders include President Tran Duc Luong and Nong Duc Manh, the powerful head of the ruling Communist Party.
In November 2003, Vietnam's Defense Minister Pham Van Tra met with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld in Washington, becoming the first senior military official of Hanoi's government to visit the United States.
Vietnam's Deputy Prime Minister Vu Khoan traveled to Washington a month later to sign a landmark aviation deal between the two countries. Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung was in Washington in 2001 for a ceremony for the landmark bilateral trade agreement between the U.S. and Vietnam.
Khai rejected suggestions that the visit was to strengthen defense and strategic ties as part of a wider policy of containing the power and influence of China.
"The purpose of my visit to the United States is to elevate our relationship to a higher plane in a new situation and we don't take into consideration as such the factor of China," he said.