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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 June, 2005, 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
Vietnam's PM in White House talks
US President George W Bush (right) shakes hands with Vietnam's Prime Minister Phan Van Khai
Mr Khai (left) said dialogue would continue between the two countries
Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai has met US President George W Bush in Washington as the two leaders agreed to continue an "open and candid dialogue".

During the talks, Mr Bush accepted an invitation to visit Vietnam next year, and said he would back Hanoi's bid to join the World Trade Organization.

Mr Khai is the first Vietnamese leader to visit the US since the end of the Vietnam War 30 years ago.

Vietnamese exiles have held protests, criticising Hanoi's human rights record

Trade ties

Vietnam hopes to join the WTO by the end of the year.

"We agreed Vietnam's accession will be in the benefits of both countries," Mr Khai said, adding that the two countries hoped to conclude bilateral negotiations soon.

But the US Congress would have to vote on any deal to allow Vietnam to join the WTO and the body is concerned about the country's human rights record.

Thirty years after the war, the US is Vietnam's biggest trading partner.

Two-way trade has soared from $1.5bn (800m) in 2001 to $7bn (3.8bn) in 2004.

'Differences'

The two leaders announced that they had signed an agreement to broaden freedom of religious worship in Vietnam but did not go into any details about the document.

Human rights activists and Congressional leaders had written to President Bush asking him to express concern about Vietnam's record on human rights.

There are estimated to be around 100 religious prisoners, and several journalists, in Vietnam's jails.

Mr Khai said both leaders agreed that differences remained between the two countries due to different histories and cultures, but he hoped "constructive dialogue" would help to overcome those differences.

Mr Bush praised Vietnam's efforts to trace the remains of US soldiers missing from the Vietnam War, in which two million Vietnamese and some 60,000 US troops died.

"It's very comforting to many families here in America to understand that the government is providing information to help close a sad chapter in their lives," Mr Bush said.

Military programme

In addition to trade ties, the US also sees Vietnam as strategically important in a region where China's influence is increasingly strong, says BBC state department correspondent Jonathan Beale.

Mr Khai is due to hold talks with US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to discuss military ties.

Mr Khai has told The Washington Post that the two will announce that Vietnam is to join the Pentagon's International Military Education and Training [Imet] programme.

Such a move would also need to be approved by Congress.


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Scenes from the historic meeting between the leaders



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