Reuters International

HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnam would welcome the United States "accelerating" the lifting of a lethal arms embargo, which would reflect trust between the two countries and recognition of its needs to defend itself, its foreign ministry said on Thursday.

Vietnam's comments on a topic that has long been a source of friction with the United States comes just over a week ahead of a visit by President Barack Obama, and amid debate in Washington over whether to remove the ban, which was eased in late 2014.

The arms embargo is one of the last major vestiges of the Vietnam War era. The United States has not indicated publicly it would remove the embargo and has long said such a move would depend on Vietnam showing progress on human rights.

"We welcome the United States' acceleration to fully lift the lethal arms sales ban on Vietnam," the ministry said in response to Reuters questions.

"This is consistent with the development trend of the comprehensive partnership ... demonstrating trust between the two countries."

Lifting the embargo would mark a major step forward in ties 21 years after normalization began.

The ministry said it welcomed the "many supporting voices" in the United States that had called for the removal of the embargo.

U.S. engagement with Vietnam was stepped up rapidly during 2014, in what experts say was a calibrated move by the United States to seize on deteriorating ties between Vietnam and communist neighbour China over rival territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Vietnam is hosting a defence symposium this week attended by top American arms manufacturers including Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Secrecy has surrounded the event, which is part of efforts by Vietnam to build a military deterrent as China intensifies its fortification of South China Sea islands it controls or has built from scratch.

Vietnam has been in talks with Western and U.S. arms manufacturers to boost its fleets of fighter jets, helicopters and maritime patrol aircraft, although Russia, its traditional supplier, has a dominant position.

The foreign ministry said Vietnam had no intention of forming military alliances "against other countries" and its policy was about self-defence.

"The procurement of defence equipment by Vietnam from partner countries is completely normal, in accordance with the a defence policy of peace," it said.

"We are not allied or linking militarily with any country against other countries."

(Reporting by Hanoi bureau; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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