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The Paris Peace Accords of 1973, intended to establish peace in Vietnammarker and an end to the Vietnam Conflict, ended direct U.S. military involvement and temporarily stopped the fighting between north and south. The governments of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), and the United Statesmarker, as well as the Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG) that represented indigenous South Vietnamese revolutionaries signed the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam on January 27, 1973. The negotiations that led to the accord had begun in 1968 and had been subject to various lengthy delays. As a result of the accord, International Control Commission (ICC) was replaced by International Commission of Control and Supervision (ICCS) to carry out the agreement.

The main negotiators of the agreement were United States National Security Advisor Dr. Henry Kissinger and Vietnamese politburo member Le Duc Tho; the two men were awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts, although Tho refused to accept it.

Provisions of the accords

The document began with the statement that "the United States and all other countries respect the independence, sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity of Vietnam as recognized by the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Vietnam." The inclusion of this provision was a victory for the communist side of the negotiations by allowing that the war was not a foreign aggression against South Vietnam. The main military and political provisions of the agreement were:
  • Beginning on 27 January 1973 at midnight, Greenwich Mean Time — in Saigon time, 08:00 on 28 January — there would be an in-place ceasefire. North and South Vietnamese forces were to hold their locations. They were permitted to resupply military materials to the extent necessary to replace items consumed in the course of the truce.
  • As soon as the ceasefire is in effect, U.S. troops (along with other foreign soldiers) would begin to withdraw, with withdrawal to be complete within sixty days. Simultaneously, U.S. prisoners of war would be released and allowed to return home. The parties to the agreement agreed to assist in repatriating the remains of the dead.
  • There would be negotiations between the two South Vietnamese parties — Saigon and the Vietcong — towards a political settlement that would allow the South Vietnamese people to "decide themselves the political future of South Viet-Nam through genuinely free and democratic general elections under international supervision."
  • Reunification of Vietnam was to be "carried out step by step through peaceful means."

Paris peace talks

Early deadlocks

Shaken by the success of anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy in the New Hampshire primary, in March 1968 U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson halted bombing operations over the northern portion of the North Vietnam (Operation Rolling Thunder), in order to encourage Hanoimarker to begin negotiations. Shortly thereafter Hanoi agreed to discuss a complete halt of the bombing, and a date was set for representatives of both parties to meet in Paris. The sides first met on 10 May, with the delegations headed by Xuan Thuy, who would remain the official leader of the North Vietnamese delegation throughout the process, and U.S. ambassador-at-large Averell Harriman.

For five months the negotiations stalled as North Vietnam demanded that all bombing of North Vietnam be stopped, while the U.S. side demanded that North Vietnam agree to a reciprocal de-escalation in South Vietnam; it was not until 31 October that Johnson agreed to end the air strikes and serious negotiations could begin.

One of the largest hurdles to effective negotiation was the fact that North Vietnam and its ally in South Vietnam, the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF, or Viet Cong), refused to recognize the government of South Vietnam; with equal persistence, the government in Saigonmarker refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the NLF. Harriman resolved this dispute by developing a system by which North Vietnam and U.S. would be the named parties; NLF officials could join North Vietnam team without being recognized by South Vietnam, while Saigon's representatives joined their U.S. allies.

A similar debate concerned the table to be used at the conference. The North favored a circular table, in which all parties, including NLF representatives, would appear to be 'equal' in importance. The South Vietnamese argued that only a rectangular table was acceptable, for only a rectangle could show two distinct sides to the conflict. Eventually a compromise was reached, in which representatives of the northern and southern governments would sit at a circular table, with members representing all other parties sitting on individual square tables around them.

Claimed sabotage of negotiations by Nixon campaign

Prior to the 1968 U.S. presidential election, some commentators have concluded from statements of President Johnson and other contemporary players, the Richard Nixon campaign "set out to sabotage the Paris peace negotiations on Vietnam."According to this account of events, representatives of Nixon privately assured the South Vietnamese government that an incoming Republican administration would offer them a better deal than would a Democratic one, and the South Vietnamese withdrew from the talks on the eve of the election, thereby disrupting the peace initiative on which the Democrats had based their campaign.Before the elections President Johnson “suspected (…) Richard Nixon, of political sabotage that he called treason”. However, nobody was charged with a crime in the matter.

Nixon government

In 1969, Richard Nixon succeeded to the U.S. presidency and replaced Harriman with Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., who was later replaced by David Bruce. Also that year, the NLF set up a 'Provisional Revolutionary Government', (PRG), to gain government status at the talks. However, the primary negotiations that led to the agreement did not occur at the Peace Conference at all but were carried out during secret negotiations between Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, which began on 4 August 1969.

North Vietnam insisted for three years that the agreement could not be concluded unless the U.S. agreed to remove South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu from power and replace him with someone more acceptable to Hanoi. Nixon and Kissinger were unwilling to overthrow through an agreement a government the NLF had failed to overthrow by force of arms.

Breakthrough and agreement

The major breakthrough came on 8 October 1972. North Vietnam had been disappointed by the results of the its Nguyen Hue Offensive (known in the West as the Easter Offensive), and feared increased isolation if Nixon's efforts at détente significantly improved U.S relations with the chief communist powers, the Soviet Unionmarker and the People's Republic of Chinamarker, who were backing North Vietnamese military effort. In a meeting with Kissinger, Tho significantly modified his bargaining line, allowing that the Saigon regime could remain in power and that negotiations between the two South Vietnamese parties could develop a final settlement. Within ten days the secret talks drew up a final draft. Kissinger held a press conference in Washington during which he announced that "peace is at hand."
When Thieu, who had not even been informed of the secret negotiations, was presented with the draft of the new agreement, he was furious with Kissinger and Nixon (who were perfectly aware of South Vietnam's negotiating position) and refused to accept it without significant changes. He then made several public and radio addresses, claiming that the proposed agreement was worse than it actually was. Hanoi was flabbergasted, believing that it had been duped into a propaganda ploy by Kissinger. On 26 October Radio Hanoi broadcast key details of the draft agreement.

However, as U.S casualties mounted throughout the conflict, American domestic support for the war had deteriorated, and by 1973 there was major pressure on the Nixon administration to withdraw. Consequently, the U.S. brought great diplomatic pressure upon their South Vietnamese ally to sign the peace treaty even if the concessions Thieu wanted could not be achieved. Nixon pledged continued substantial aid to South Vietnam, and given his recent landslide victory in the presidential election it seemed possible that he would be able to follow through on that pledge. To demonstrate his seriousness to Thieu, Nixon ordered the heavy Operation Linebacker II bombings of North Vietnam in December 1972. These operations were also designed to keep North Vietnam at the negotiating table and to prevent it from abandoning negotiations and seeking total victory. With the U.S. committed to disengagement (and after threats from Nixon that South Vietnam would be abandoned if he did not agree), Thieu had little choice but to accede.

On 15 January 1973, Nixon announced a suspension of offensive actions against North Vietnam. Kissinger and Tho met again on 23 January and signed off on a treaty that was basically identical to the draft of three months earlier. The agreement was signed by the leaders of the official delegations on 27 January at the Majestic Hotel in Paris.

Numerous violations of the Paris Peace Accords were committed by both sides. The North Vietnamese and their South Vietnamese allies continued their attempt to overthrow President Thieu's the U.S. supported government in South Vietnam. North Vietnamese military forces gradually moved through the southern provinces and two years later were in position to capture Saigon.

The U.S. had promised Thieu that it would use airpower to support his government. During his confirmation hearings in June 1973, Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger was sharply criticized by some Senators after he stated that he would recommend resumption of U.S. bombing in North Vietnam if North Vietnam launched a major offensive against South Vietnam. However, Nixon was driven from office due to the Watergate scandal in 1974 and when the North Vietnamese did begin their final offensive early in 1975, the United States Congress refused to appropriate the funds needed by the South Vietnamese, who collapsed completely. Thieu resigned, accusing the U.S. of betrayal in a TV and radio address:

The North Vietnamese entered Saigon on April 30. Schlesinger had announced early in the morning of 29 April 1975 the evacuation from Saigon by helicopter of the last U.S. diplomatic, military, and civilian personnel.


Other key figures in the negotiations


Further reading

  • Herrington, Stuart A. "Peace with Honor? An American Reports on Vietnam" Presidio Press (1983). Part II, "Life Under The Paris Agreement" pp. 16–40.

External links

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