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US Warships Make Landmark Visit to Strategic Vietnam Port

FILE - The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain sails in formation during exercise Foal Eagle 2013 in waters west of the Korean peninsula in this March 21, 2013 handout photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

Two U.S. warships have made their first port call in 21 years at Vietnam's strategic naval base at Cam Ranh Bay, marking an important step in improving military ties between the former enemies.

Submarine tender USS Frank Cable and guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain arrived at the deep-water naval base in Khanh Hoa province, the U.S. navy said on Tuesday, in the first such call by U.S. warships since the two countries normalized relations in 1995.

The visit came after the full lifting of a U.S. embargo on trade in lethal arms with Vietnam in May as part of President Barack Obama's strategic "rebalance" toward Asia.

At the same time, tension has been rising over rival territorial claims in the South China Sea, straining ties between Vietnam and its giant neighbor China.

Vietnam has been intensifying efforts to diversify relations in Europe and Asia and engage more with the United States.

Cam Ranh is the jewel in the crown of Vietnam's military, with an air base once used by the U.S. and Soviet forces and a deep water bay home to its modern, Russian-built submarines.

Visits by foreign ships are rare and usually reserved for maintenance. Japanese and French warships have recently made port calls at Cam Ranh.

Established as a base by the United States during the Vietnam War, Cam Ranh Bay had been used largely by Russian forces since then.

The John S. McCain visited nearby Danang city before sailing to Cam Ranh Bay, the U.S. Navy said.