December 15, 2009 / 1:09 AM / 8 years ago

U.S. eyes Vietnam, Libya arms sales

<p>Defense Security Cooperation Agency Director Vice Admiral Jeffrey Wieringa answers questions during the Reuters Aerospace and Defense Summit in Washington December 14, 2009.Stelios Varias</p>

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration is prepared to consider selling at least non-lethal arms to Vietnam and Libya, both one-time U.S. foes, as security ties with each of them grow, a top Pentagon official said on Monday.

With Vietnam, whose defense minister is to meet U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the Pentagon on Tuesday, "we're in the infancy of the process now," Vice Admiral Jeffrey Wieringa, head of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, told the annual Reuters Aerospace and Defense Summit in Washington.

Wieringa said a country like Vietnam with its long coastline might be interested in maritime patrol aircraft or a coastal radar system.

"The first thing that would happen would be potentially ... English language training" for Vietnamese military officers, he said. The next might be the U.S. International Military Education & Training program, which provides free training to officers from allied and friendly nations, he added.

"And then (we) would just continue to mature the relationship," he said, with eventual arms sales "certainly possible."

Military to military contacts between Vietnam and the United States have expanded in recent years. Defense Minister General Phung Quang Thanh will be the second Vietnamese in that job to visit the United States since the two countries normalized ties in 1995, 20 years after the Vietnam War.

For Libya, Wieringa said the United States might supply Humvees, the vehicular backbone of U.S. forces worldwide. Relations have warmed since the administration of former President George W. Bush removed Libya from its list of alleged state sponsors of terrorism.

Wieringa said a Libyan delegation visited him about six months ago in his office.

"We've got some modest, non-lethal efforts ... that is progressing at a reasonable pace right now," he said.

The security cooperation agency, which brokers government-to-government arms sales, is dealing with 218 countries or entities, Wieringa said.

(For summit blog: blogs.reuters.com/summits/)

Reporting by Deepa Seetharaman and Jim Wolf; Editing by editing by Carol Bishopric

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