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Obama lifts arms embargo on Vietnam

The US has ended its decades-long ban on exporting weapons to Vietnam, pushing to boost military ties with its one-time opponent. President Barrack Obama announced the move during his first visit to the Asian country.

Obama described the embargo as a "lingering vestige of the Cold War" at a Hanoi press conference on Monday.

"The United States is fully lifting the ban on the sale of military equipment to Vietnam that has been in place for some fifty years," Obama said, appearing alongside Vietnamese president Tran Dai Quang.

"At this stage both sides have developed a level of trust and cooperation," he added.

The US president also said that he expected

deeper links

between militaries of the two nations that fought a bloody war ending in 1975.

Washington already removed parts of the ban in 2014, but Vietnam had continued to push for free access to US-made weapons as it clashed with China over territorial disputes in South China Sea.

U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Vietnam's President Tran Dai Quang after an arrival ceremony at the presidential palace in Hanoi, Vietnam May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

US President Barack Obama shakes hands with Vietnam President Tran Dai Quang at the arrival ceremony in Hanoi

In turn, the US has been boosting ties with communist Vietnam, seeking to exploit a growing rift between two wartime allies.

At the Monday press conference, however, Obama said that lifting the embargo was "not based on China… but on our desire to complete what has been a lengthy process moving towards normalization" with Vietnam.

US fueling 'delusions'

The lifting of embargo is expected to irritate China, which lays claim to almost all of the South China Sea. Beijing remains deeply suspicious of the alleged US effort to contain Chinese power.

On Sunday, Beijing's official Xinhua news agency published a commentary saying the US was "motivated by an insincere agenda" and recommended Vietnam to be cautious.

The US has made some countries more assertive and "fuelled their delusions to continue to exploit illegal interests" in the South China Sea, Xinhua said.

"It is welcome that Vietnam improves its ties with any other country, including the United States. However, such rapprochement should not be used by the United States as a tool to threaten or even damage the strategic interests of a third country," the agency said late on Sunday.

Obama is expected to stay in Vietnam until Wednesday, before

moving on to Japan

for a G7 summit and a visit to Hiroshima.

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