HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnam’s most senior politician began a three-day visit to North Korea on Tuesday to improve economic and diplomatic ties with Pyongyang, which has taken some initial steps toward moving out of isolation.
The General Secretary of the Communist Party, Nong Duc Manh, is the first head of Vietnam’s ruling party to visit North Korea since late President Ho Chi Minh in 1957, the government said.
The two communist countries have done almost no trade with each other since 1996, according to the Vietnam government.
State-run media said Manh’s October 16-18 visit “is aimed at fostering the traditional friendship and economic ties between the two countries”.
They are among five communist-ruled countries. Manh visited Cuba in June and met President Fidel Castro. Vietnam has close ties with fellow-communist neighbors China and tiny Laos.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said North Korean Prime Minister Kim Yong-Il would pay an official visit to Hanoi “at a coming date” without being specific.
The last senior Vietnamese figure to visit North Korea was then-President Tran Duc Luong in May 2002.
Last week, the Vietnam government Web site said Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung had “approved an investment protection and encouragement pact” with North Korea.
Vietnam has relations with both North Korea and South Korea. The South Koreans are the biggest investors in the Southeast Asian country, whose economy is growing at more than 8 percent a year.
In signs of some change by North Korea, it has agreed to disable its nuclear capability and President Kim Jong-il hosted a summit two weeks ago with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun. The leaders agreed to try to bring a formal peace to the divided Korean Peninsula, the Cold War’s last frontier.