The proposed deal "should be seen in the context of Vietnam regionalising and multilateralising its latent conflicts with China" particularly over islands in the South China Sea, Kemenade said.

The paper quoted a senior US official briefed on the negotiations as saying that China had not been consulted on the talks.

"It doesn't involve China," the official said.

'Double standards'

The Journalreported that US officials familiar with the matter say negotiators have given a full nuclear co-operation proposal to Vietnam and have started briefing US House and senate foreign-relations committees.

The paper also said the move will be seen by US government critics as a double standard, as the US has made more stringent demands of its Middle East partners.

Vietnam signed an initial memorandum of understanding with the administration of George Bush in 2001 to pursue co-operation with the US on securing fissile materials and developing civilian nuclear power.

The paper added that the administration of Barack Obama, the US president, has accelerated talks with Hanoi in recent months aimed at completing the deal to allow for the exchange of know-how and co-operation in security, storage and educational areas.

But the Journal said counter-proliferation experts and US legislators briefed on the talks say the deal marks a step backward in Washington's recent nonproliferation efforts.

The paper, however, added that US officials stressed that any agreement with Vietnam will require that Hanoi's nuclear installations be under close oversight by the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The Vietnamese are studying the agreement's final draft and further talks are expected in the fall, US diplomats quoted by the Journal said.