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Bush to visit Vietnam

President lauds economic, religious progress

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. President George W. Bush said Tuesday he has accepted an invitation to visit Vietnam, where he will attend next year's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

"I'm looking forward to my trip and to the APEC summit that Vietnam will be hosting," Bush told reporters after meeting in the White House Oval Office with Vietnam's Prime Minister Phan Van Khai.

Khai's official visit to the United States was the first by a Vietnamese prime minister and coincided with the 10th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the former enemies.

Bush said the two leaders discussed the fight against HIV and AIDS in Vietnam, security issues, humanitarian issues "and the mutual desire to coordinate in the war on terror."

In addition, Bush said the two "signed a landmark agreement that will make it easier for people to worship freely in Vietnam."

He thanked Khai for Vietnam's efforts to find the remains of U.S. soldiers who died there in the war that ended 30 years ago.

"It's very comforting for many families here in America to understand that the government is providing information to help close a sad chapter in their lives," said Bush, whose service in the Texas Air National Guard during the war did not include duty in Vietnam.

Khai's comments made no reference to the past animosity, but focused on the future.

"This event in itself shows that Vietnamese-U.S. relations have, in fact, entered a new stage of development," Khai said.

He said the two men agreed their countries' relationship "should be enhanced" and he said he appreciated Bush's support for Vietnam to enter the World Trade Organization.

Vietnam's 80 million people could represent "a huge market for American businesses," he said.

The leaders "also agreed that there remain differences between our two countries, due to the different conditions we have, different histories and cultures, but we also agreed that we should work together through constructive dialogues based on mutual respect ... in order to improve our bilateral relations," Khai said.

He concluded, "We wish America prosperity and happiness to your people."

As Khai met with Bush, several hundred protesters outside demonstrated against, chanting and carrying signs that said "Stop Religious Repression" and "Vietnamese Communist Party Party," AP reported.

Khai's weeklong visit to the United States includes discussions with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and meeting business leaders on both coasts. He will also ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange later this week, AP reported.

On Monday he met Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates in Redmond, Washington.

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