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President leaves for Vietnam

President leaves for Vietnam

New Delhi: President Pranab Mukherjee Sunday left on a four-day state visit to Vietnam during which several agreements are expected to be signed.

These include agreements on direct air services between the two countries, and for India to scout for oil and gas in the South China Sea.

Mukherjee will visit both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

His delegation includes Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and six MPs, including Supriya Sule (NCP), K.V. Thomas (Congress) and Pervesh Verma (BJP).

Ahead of the visit, the president termed Vietnam an "important pillar" in India's Look East policy and said he hoped to strengthen this partnership.

In an interview to Vietnamese News Agency on the eve of his departure, he said he saw India and Vietnam as partners, "contributing to peace, prosperity and stability in the wider region".

Crediting Jawaharlal Nehru and Ho Chi Minh for laying the foundation of friendship between the two countries, he said bilateral ties "have never been better than what they are today".

But there was still immense potential for cooperation, he said.

The president is carrying a sapling of the holy Bodhi tree from Bodh Gaya as a gift. It will be planted by Mukherjee and his Vietnamese counterpart Truong Tan Sang at the presidential palace in Hanoi.

Besides an agreement between Jet Airways and Air Vietnam, the visit would also see OVL, the overseas arm of oil major ONGC, and Petro Vietnam ink an agreement for two additional blocks off Vietnam.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, during her visit to Vietnam last month, had stressed that India considers Vietnam one of the key pillars in its Look East policy.

Mukherjee last visited Vietnam in May 2011 when he was the finance minister for the annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank.

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