Washington — Symbolism and substance blend when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld meets Monday with his Vietnamese counterpart, the first defense minister from the communist country to visit the Pentagon since the war's end in 1975.
Some 30 years after America's defeat in Vietnam, Pham Van Tra is expected to talk with Rumsfeld and Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about lingering problems from the war and how the countries can become allies in the fight against terrorism.
"It's symbolic of a new stage in Vietnamese-American relations," which have been broadening slowly over the years, said Charles Morrison, president of the East-West Center in Honolulu.
The United States and communist Vietnam had no formal relations and limited contacts in the two decades after the last American combat troops left South Vietnam in 1973.
The first President Bush initiated cooperation in such areas as accounting for Americans missing in action. President Clinton lifted the trade embargo in 1994 and the next year established diplomatic relations.
Over time, Vietnam and the United States have developed trade ties and discussed issues such as U.S. misgivings about Vietnam's human rights record.
Recent developments in the relationship include last month's aviation agreement to begin direct fights between the two countries. A U.S. Navy ship will visit Ho Chi Minh City this month in the first such port call since the war.
The Pentagon visit has been especially long in coming. It reciprocates one to Hanoi more than three years ago by Clinton's defense secretary, William Cohen.
Some 58,000 U.S. troops and 3 million Vietnamese military and civilians died in what the Vietnamese call the American War.