Vietnam's Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong will visit the United States next week for the first time and will meet with President Barack Obama at the White House.
The former enemies have been trying to normalize ties in recent years and US-Vietnam relations are seen as crucial for Washington's Asia-Pacific pivot. Vietnam and the US also share concerns over an increasingly assertive China in the region.
Nguyen Phu Trong is not part of a government, but his July 6-10 visit is important for US officials who say Trong and Obama are expected to have a "very big picture conversation," Reuters reported. Meetings with Obama are normally reserved for heads of state or government.
"There was a broad agreement that it made sense to treat him and treat the visit as the visit of the top leader of the country. "We don't view the meeting as a reward for the Vietnamese. We view it much more as continuing engagement," an official said.
The visit will also mark the 20th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties, about two decades after the end of the Vietnam War. It also comes in a time that Hanoi's relations with Beijing have been deteriorated over China's territorial claims in disputed South China Sea.
"The relationship with Vietnam has moved to a very different place and part of that has been actually energized by China's actions."We now have more countries in Southeast Asia looking to the United States and striking stronger relationships with us than we've ever had, less because of what we've done than because of what China has done," Deputy Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said last week.
Trong described US as a force for stability in the Asia- Pacific region in an article to The Wall Street Journal.
The White House said the leaders would discuss trade, human rights and defense cooperation.
Obama is said to visit Vietnam during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in the Philippines in November, but this trip was ot confirmed by the US officials. If it is confirmed, it will be Obama's first visit to Vietnam.
Before Trong's visit, some of the most important names in US politics visited Vietnam, including top General Martin Dempsey, Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Senator John McCain, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.
Former President Bill Clinton also traveled to Hanoi to attend an Independence Day celebration on Thursday. He said the 1995 normalization of ties was "one of the most important achievements of my presidency" when he met Trong, Reuters reported.
Vietnam is Southeast Asia's biggest exporter to the United States and they are among 12 countries negotiating a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) accord today. Washington eased a lethal arms embargo to Vietnam last year, and has been seeking to strengthen economic and military partnership.
Trong's visit was "historic and timely" and aimed to break down trust barriers, Ernest Bower, a Southeast Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies told Reuters.
"The two countries ... are about to enter a new era of deeper cooperation in areas such as security, political and diplomatic alignment. The countries' political leaders must develop a level of trust and mutual respect. That is what this visit is about."