The US is fully lifting its embargo on sales of lethal weapons to Vietnam, its one-time enemy, President Barack Obama has announced.
Speaking during a visit to Vietnam and talks with its leaders, President Barack Obama said the move removed a “lingering vestige of the Cold War”.
The US is trying to bolster its relationship with its Pacific allies, as China asserts territorial claims.
However, Barack Obama said the embargo decision was not related to US policy on China.
“It’s based on our desire to complete what has been a lengthy process of moving towards normalization with Vietnam,” the president said in Hanoi.
Vietnam is one of several countries in the region involved in maritime disputes with China. The US insists on the right to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
In 2014, a row over a Chinese oil rig near the Paracel islands led to clashes between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels and anti-China riots in Vietnam.
According to White House officials, the arms ban, in force since 1984, would be lifted only if human rights in Vietnam improved.
Barack Obama said after talks with President Tran Dai Quang: “Sales will need to still meet strict requirements, including those related to human rights, but this change will ensure that Vietnam has access to the equipment it needs to defend itself.”
Vietnam had been arguing for an end to the embargo, which was partially lifted in 2014.
Barack Obama’s visit comes 41 years after the end of the Vietnam War in which the US sought to prevent a communist takeover of South Vietnam.
Several million Vietnamese – civilians, communist fighters and South Vietnamese soldiers – were killed, as well as more than 58,000 US soldiers.
By the end of the war in 1975, the communists had gained control of the entire country.
While in Vietnam, Barack Obama is expected to meet dissidents and make the case for Vietnam to remove obstacles to the US-led Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade deal.
Barack Obama flies later to Japan for a summit of the G7 industrialized nations. His visit will include a tour of Hiroshima, where the world’s first nuclear attack was carried out in 1945 by the US, killing at least 140,000 people.