The arrangement would allow more cooperation between the two countries on nuclear technology. But former Congressmen William Hendon, R-N.C. and John LeBoutillier, R-N.Y., voiced their concerns over part of the deal, as it does not include restrictions on enriching uranium, the process by which nuclear weapons can be made.

The former congressmen argued that the move could heighten the risk of nuclear proliferation; could increase the possibility of nuclear materials falling into extremists' hands; and contended that the deal ran counter to the U.S. policy.

"We're going to give the Vietnamese nuclear enrichment authority, which could lead to nuclear weapons or, more frightening, loose nuclear material in terrorist hands," Hendon told a news conference in Washington.

The Vietnamese government has claimed that it plans to use the technology for peaceful means.

U.S. President Barack Obama won a Nobel Peace Prize in part because of his nuclear non-proliferation stance, but critics blasted the Vietnam deal as contradicting the president's stated nuclear goals.

Obama vowed in a speech from Prague in April 2009 that the United States would take the lead in pushing for a world devoid of nuclear weapons.

In spring he hosted a major nuclear summit in Washington in which participants agreed to secure vulnerable nuclear materials within their borders within four years -- the goal he outlined in the Prague speech. They also agreed on what Obama called the responsibility of nations to maintain effective security of the nuclear materials and facilities under their control.

Aside from critics who charge that the Vietnam deal contradicts Obama's proposal of a nuclear-free world, others argue the arrangement represents a double standard. The United States goes to great lengths to prevent certain countries from acquiring nuclear technology but fails to apply the same rigid policies to others, critics said.

As such, a U.S. government debate over whether to press for the inclusion of a clause restricting Vietnam from enriching uranium is currently under way in Washington, according to the U.S. media reports.

The Obama administration set the so-called "gold standard" in a deal with the United Arab Emirates, when it prohibited that country from producing nuclear fuel on its soil, but did not insist on the same standard for Vietnam.

Observers here believe the arrangement with Vietnam is part of a broader U.S. strategic effort to focus more on Asia.

Xinhua - October 17, 2010