May 24, 2016 / 3:44 AM / 3 years ago

U.S., Vietnam agree to allow Peace Corps into Vietnam for first time

U.S. Peace Corps Director Carolyn Hessler Radelet (2nd L) and Vietnamese ambassador to the U.S. Pham Quang Vinh (R) pose for a photo with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (C), US ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius (L) and Vietnam's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh (2nd R) after a signing ceremony of Peace Corps Operation in Vietnam at the Government Guesthouse as part of the visit by U.S. President Barack Obama in Hanoi, Vietnam May 24, 2016. REUTERS/Kham

HANOI (Reuters) - The United States and Vietnam on Tuesday signed an agreement allowing the U.S. Peace Corps to work in the country for the first time.

The signing, which comes amid a historic three-day visit by President Barack Obama, follows more than a decade of negotiations between the two countries to establish a Peace Corps operation in Vietnam.

The program, which is expected to begin over the next two years, allows Peace Corps volunteers to teach English in schools in the country’s two largest cities, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, said Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet, who signed the agreement with Vietnam’s ambassador to the United States, Pham Quang Vinh.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who was present for the signing, said the agreement marked a further normalizing of relations between the United States and Vietnam.

“For 20 years now we have had what we call a normal relationship,” said Kerry, who in 1968 served as a young U.S. naval officer in the Vietnam War.

“This is normal, having the Peace Corps being able to move forward, having young Americans come here, not always young, to be able to teach English in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh is the next step forward to building the relationship between the United States and Vietnam,” he added.

After the signing, Hessler-Radelet turned to Kerry saying: “You’ve waited for this for a long time.”

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Robert Birsel

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