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Monday, September 6, 1999 Published at 06:08 GMT 07:08 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Albright talks trade in Vietnam

Madeleine Albright arrives in Hanoi for a 30 hour stopover

The American Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, has started a two-day visit to Vietnam, the latest stage in efforts by the two countries to normalise their relations.

Mrs Albright is to meet Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai and other senior officials for talks expected to focus on trade and human rights..

A US-Vietnam trade agreement was reached in principle in July but US officials say that since then Hanoi's commitment to signing the accord has faltered.

Wake up call

"Some issues, particularly the trade agreement, are in danger of failing," said a senior official travelling with Mrs Albright. "There has been slippage from the Vietnamese side."

"They've made important steps in the right direction (in economic reform) but they're not over the hump. She's going to urge them to wake up and smell the coffee," he said.

[ image: War memorial in Ho Chi Minh]
War memorial in Ho Chi Minh
US negotiators had hoped that the agreements would be ready in time for signing during an an Asia-Pacific economic summit in New Zealand later in the week, but a US official said he now doubted they would meet that target.

Also on the agenda is Washington's concern at the government's human rights record and issues of religious freedom.

Mrs Albright will also travel to Ho Chi Minh City where she is to inaugurate the new American consulate, on the same site that housed the former embassy in the erstwhile Saigon.

The former embassy which was demolished a year ago, witnessed the final scenes of the US presence in Vietnam.

The last US and Vietnamese personnel were airlifted by helicopter from the embassy roof in 1975, as communist tanks rolled into Saigon.

Since diplomatic relations were established in 1995 Washington and Hanoi have worked hard to put the war behind them.

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