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US envoy Kritenbrink to visit Vietnam on heels of Putin visit

By Thomson Reuters Jun 20, 2024 | 10:26 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A top U.S. diplomat will visit Vietnam this week to stress Washington’s commitment to working with it to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific, the State Department said on Thursday, after Russian President Vladimir Putin said in Hanoi he wanted to build a “reliable security architecture” in the region.

Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Kritenbrink “will also reaffirm the United States’ support for a strong, independent, resilient, and prosperous Vietnam,” during his visit on Friday and Saturday, the State Department said in a statement.

A day after signing a mutual defense agreement with North Korea, Putin received a 21-gun salute at a military ceremony in Vietnam, was embraced by two of its Communist leaders and lavishly praised by one of them.

His two-nation trip to Asia is seen as a show of defiance to the West, and Vietnam’s hosting of Putin has been criticized by the United States and the EU. The U.S. upgraded diplomatic relations with Hanoi last year and is Vietnam’s top export market.

The West views Putin as a pariah and says he should not be given a stage on which to defend Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Russia and Vietnam signed agreements on issues including energy, underlining Moscow’s pivot to Asia after the West imposed sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine conflict.

The State Department said Kritenbrink, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia and a former ambassador to Vietnam, would meet with senior Vietnam government officials “to underscore the strong U.S. commitment to implementing the U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and to working with Vietnam in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”

Despite concern over Putin’s visit, some analysts believe Hanoi may have calculated it will not suffer material consequences in relations with the United States, given that Washington relies on good relations with Vietnam to counter its rivalry with China in the region.

However, Hanoi is awaiting an important U.S. decision due by July 26, on whether to elevate Vietnam to market-economy status, and other analysts say hosting Putin could have a bearing on this.

The upgrade Hanoi seeks is opposed by U.S. steelmakers, Gulf Coast shrimpers and honey farmers, but backed by retailers and some other business groups. It would reduce punitive anti-dumping duties set on Vietnamese imports given its current status as a non-market economy marked by heavy state influence.

(Reporting by Kat Jackson, Doina Chiacu and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Rod Nickel)