Chavez has just finished a state visit to Iran and has also visited Cuba, Belarus and Russia, where he finalised a major arms deal opposed by Washington.

 

During his two-day trip to Hanoi, the Latin American leader is scheduled to stop at sites associated with the country's revolutions and wars, including the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, a military museum and a war veterans' memorial.

 

He will also visit a rehabilitation centre for people suffering health defects blamed on Agent Orange,the toxic US wartime defoliant.

 

Chavez is expected to sign an energy co-operation agreement during his meetings with Nguyen Minh Triet, the Vietnamese president.

 

Vietnam has major oil and gas reserves in the South China Sea, but so far lacks refining capacity, and in June an executive delegation of state-owned PetroVietnam travelled to Venezuela for an official visit.

 

Chavez and his hosts are also expected to boost their relations in mining, agriculture, education and culture and information, state media reported.

 

Ambivalent relationship

 

Chavez has met several of Washington's arch foes in his two-week tour, including Fidel Castro, the Cuban leader, and Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, an ex-Soviet state US officials have called "the last dictatorship in Europe."

 

During his visit to Iran, part of what the US defines as the "axis of evil", Chavez declared that "history has shown that as long as we stay united, we can remain resistant and defeat imperialism".

 

However Vietnam's leaders have a more ambivalent relationship with the US, with politicians far less likely to join in condemnation of Washington at a time when they have been eager to build up diplomatic and economic ties with their one-time enemy.

 

Earlier this year, Vietnam and the US signed a trade deal that removed a major hurdle in Vietnam's bid to integrate into the global economy by entering the World Trade Organisation later this year.

 

George Bush, the US president, is also expected to visit Hanoi in November, when Vietnam hosts an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.