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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. and Vietnamese Officials to Convene

WASHINGTON -- Symbolism and substance will blend when U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld meets Monday with his Vietnamese counterpart, the first defense minister from the communist country to visit the Pentagon since the war's end in 1975.

Some 30 years after America's defeat in Vietnam, Pham Van Tra is expected to talk with Rumsfeld and Air Force General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about lingering problems from the war and how the countries can become allies in the fight against terrorism.

The United States and communist Vietnam had no formal relations and limited contacts in the two decades after the last U.S. combat troops left South Vietnam in 1973.

U.S. President George H.W. Bush initiated cooperation in such areas as accounting for U.S. troops missing in action. President Bill Clinton lifted the trade embargo in 1994 and the next year established diplomatic relations.

Over time, Vietnam and the United States have developed trade ties and discussed issues such as U.S. misgivings about Vietnam's human rights record.

Recent developments in the relationship include last month's aviation agreement to begin direct flights between the two countries. A U.S. Navy ship will visit Ho Chi Minh City this month in the first such port call since the war.

The Pentagon visit has been especially long in coming. It reciprocates one to Hanoi more than three years ago by Clinton's defense secretary, William Cohen.

What the United States wants most now from Vietnam, analysts say, is more cooperation in promoting security and stability in its part of Asia, where terrorism is a problem.

"This is the key priority," said Charles Morrison, president of the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. "Even countries that we don't particularly like, we need to have cooperation with."

Talk arose in Vietnam this year that the U.S. military may be interested in opening a base in Vietnam to create a larger presence in the region. Hanoi has said it will not allow that but cleared the way for the visit by the warship's port call.

Tra, who also will meet with U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell, said he is prepared to discuss Vietnam's human rights record.

The unusual, if not unprecedented, arrangement has been approved by Vietnam and should get started within months.

Even with the two countries' outstanding issues, there are those who view closer U.S-Vietnam relations as relatively inconsequential in the scheme of things -- "a third-rank issue," said Fred Brown, a former U.S. Foreign Service officer who spent decades in Asia and now is with Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies. "This is not a fuzzy and warm relationship," he said. "It's practical."