, HANOI, Jul 25 – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov began a two-day visit to Vietnam Saturday with both sides hoping to boost ties that remain only a shadow of Cold War levels.
Lavrov arrived Friday and began a full day of meetings and ceremonies Saturday by holding talks with his Vietnamese counterpart Pham Gia Khiem.
The talks aimed to develop a "strategic partnership", Lavrov later told reporters.
"Relations between the two countries have developed positively," Lavrov said. "We are convinced that the bilateral cooperation will be at the highest level."
Khiem said the talks took place in a "brotherly" atmosphere.
"We wish to see better economic cooperation on the foundation of our political relations," he said.
Lavrov was also to meet President Nguyen Minh Triet and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, and visit the Vietnam Russia Bank, a joint venture.
Dung last week expressed hope for a boost in trade with the country which he visited almost two years ago, the state Vietnam News Agency said.
After the Vietnam War ended in 1975 the communist Soviet Union became Vietnam’s main benefactor during the 1980s until the country collapsed in 1991, leaving Vietnam without its ideological, economic and military ally.
Vietnam officially remains one of the world’s last communist countries — the communist hammer-and-sickle flag can still be seen — but it has embraced a market economy along with Asian and Western investment over the past two decades.
In more recent years Russian influence in Vietnam has begun to grow again but remains far below that of Soviet times.
On Saturday Vietnam and Russia signed a memorandum of understanding between their respective atomic energy agencies but no details were released.
"Cooperation on atomic energy will be a priority," Lavrov said.
Energy-hungry Vietnam last year approved the use of atomic power for civilian purposes, and Russia has already said it would like to take part in the planned programme.
Khiem said the two sides also reaffirmed their traditional relations in other fields, including defence.
Russian media reported in May that their country had secured an order from Vietnam for SU-30 MK2 fighter jets, with deliveries to begin this year. That report came after the Russian newspaper Kommersant said Vietnam was also about to sign a deal for six Russian submarines.
Preliminary Vietnamese government data show that exports to Russia totalled almost 139 million dollars in the first five months of this year while imports were valued at about 525 million dollars.
Vietnam’s former wartime enemy, the United States, which normalised diplomatic ties in 1995, received Vietnamese exports worth more than four billion dollars in the first five months, the data showed. Imports exceeded 932 million dollars.
Vietnam’s President Triet, on a visit to Moscow last October, signed a pact for Vietnamese and Russian firms to develop energy fields off the Vietnam coast.
In the telecommunications sector, Russia’s VimpelCom last week announced the commercial launch in Vietnam of its Beeline mobile service through GTEL-Mobile, a joint venture with a Vietnamese state-owned company.
Lavrov was to travel Sunday to southern Ho Chi Minh City to meet local government officials there.