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RICK C   Monday, 06/23/08 10:23:30 AM
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AP Texas News

June 23, 2008, 6:49AM
Vietnam's PM visits US

By MARGIE MASON Associated Press Writer
© 2008 The Associated Press

HANOI, Vietnam — Vietnam's prime minister began a visit to the United States on Monday, hoping to gain some economic tips that might help ease soaring inflation at home.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung is the communist country's third high-ranking leader to visit Washington since the former foes normalized relations in 1995, two decades after the Vietnam War ended. The countries have since built strong economic ties, with the U.S. becoming a leading trade and investment partner.

Vietnam's inflation, which hit 25 percent in May over the same period last year, is among the region's highest. The country began opening up to a market economy in the mid-1980s, and Dung said it still has a lot to learn.

"The Vietnamese government attaches importance to the experiences of other countries, including the U.S., and is willing to exchange views with other countries, experts on experiences in economic development, management of macro economy and in curbing inflation," Dung told The Associated Press in a written response to submitted questions.

Dung was expected to meet President Bush, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan during his trip. He also planned to open a new Vietnamese consulate in Houston, home to thousands of Vietnamese-Americans.

Dung was not expected to make stops on the West Coast, where the largest population of overseas Vietnamese, known as Viet kieu, live. Many remain fiercely anti-communist after fleeing to the U.S. as refugees when the U.S.-backed South Vietnamese government fell to northern communist forces in 1975.

Former Prime Minister Phan Van Khai was met with protests during a 2005 stop in Seattle — the first time a Vietnamese leader paid an official visit to the U.S. since the war.

President Nguyen Minh Triet traveled to Washington last year, and a number of high-level U.S. leaders have also stopped in Hanoi, including Bush's visit in 2006 when he attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

U.S. Ambassador Michael Michalak said last week that Dung and U.S. officials would discuss topics ranging from trade and investment to climate change, nuclear energy and education. Human rights also will be on the agenda, following a number of arrests involving U.S. citizens who were peacefully promoting democracy.

Dung maintains that "there are no political prisoners in Vietnam." He has also defended the recent arrest of two Vietnamese journalists who had aggressively reported on a high-profile corruption scandal. They were accused of abusing power for allegedly publishing inaccurate information about the case, which involved several government officials. Several newspapers have called for the journalists' release — a bold move in a country where all media are state-controlled.

"The two journalists were not probed and detained because they fought against corruption," Dung said. "Vietnam is a law-governing state, all citizens are equal before the law and protected by laws and will be severely punished if they violate the laws regardless of who they are."

Michalak said he expected many business deals to be signed during the visit. Executives from about 60 Vietnamese companies were traveling with the prime minister.

Two-way trade between the countries topped US$12 billion in 2007, an increase of 34 percent from 2006, according to government figures.

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