1. Introduction
    1. Audio
  2. Chapter I
    1. Audio
    2. Video
    3. Text
  3. Chapter II
    1. Audio
    2. Video
    3. Text
  4. Chapter III
    1. Audio
    2. Video
    3. Text
  5. Chapter IV
  6. Chapter V
    1. Audio
    2. Text
  7. Conclusion
  8. Appendix
    1. Audio
    2. Video
    3. Text
    4. Photo Gallery

Hanoi's October Surprise

Henry Kissinger gives a press conference

On October 8 Le Duc Tho, the North Vietnam's chief negotiator, presented Kissinger with a new plan. This new plan was seen by Kissinger as an enormous breakthrough, and according to his memoirs, one of the greatest moments of his diplomatic career. North Vietnam agreed to the stipulations laid out by Nixon on May 8, plus they made additional concessions. Most notably they did not demand that Thieu resign. They separated the political and military issues, and they wanted American economic aid to North Vietnam. In a taped conversation later that month, Nixon would tell Kissinger that it was a tacit admission that communism was a broken system because accepting money "compromises their morality as communists."3 Over the next two days both sides worked furiously to iron out all the details. In between these long sessions, Kissinger kept President Nixon informed by regularly sending cables back to him. The negotiations stretched past the original time-frame and finally concluded at 2:00 am on October 12. At that point both parties felt that sufficient progress had been made and it was time to get the plan approved by their respective governments. Kissinger went back to Washington and met with Nixon in the Executive Office Building [EOB] on October 12. It was at this meeting that Kissinger told President Nixon he had gone "three for three"4 in his negotiations that year (meaning successful negotiations with the USSR, PRC, and North Vietnam). In the meeting President Nixon, Kissinger, and Alexander Haig were ebullient about this dramatic turn of events. President Nixon approved of the plan as long as Thieu was also willing to sign, which Kissinger optimistically believed he would. They set about getting the final details resolved and Kissinger told Nixon that if all went according to plan he could announce the agreement on October 26 and the cease-fire would begin on October 30.

The euphoria and optimism was short lived. Kissinger flew to Saigon to meet with Thieu about the agreement on October 18. He met with Thieu for the next few days outlining details of the agreement and explaining the various concessions that had been made by both sides. He also presented him with a letter from President Nixon which stated the agreement "is the best we will be able to get and that it meets my absolute condition that the GVN [Government of Vietnam] must survive as a free country."5 On October 22, as the United States and North Vietnam completed the terms of an agreement, Thieu informed Kissinger that he would never sign it. On October 24 Thieu spoke to the South Vietnamese National Assembly and made his disputes with the United States public. Kissinger tried to get the North Vietnamese to assent to a delay. Instead, on October 25, the North Vietnamese accused President Nixon of negotiating in bad faith and broadcast the details of the negotiations and the major points of the agreement over Radio Hanoi. It was an attempt to exploit the growing fissure between the United States and South Vietnam. With the presidential election just around the corner, Kissinger was called upon to rebut the North Vietnamese. Kissinger was to hold a live television press conference in front of the nation to explain the US position. In this press conference Kissinger asserted that, despite what Hanoi was saying, "peace was at hand."6

Initially, President Nixon was ecstatic with the attention surrounding Kissinger’s press conference. Afterwards he lavishly praised Kissinger for the successful press conference. Kissinger reported that Colson believed that they had "wiped McGovern out."7 Later in a phone conversation President Nixon told Charles Colson that they had "knocked Watergate out" of the news with the prospects of peace in Vietnam. Colson responded by saying that Kissinger did a "superb job."8 What becomes apparent listening to these conversations is that the press conference was a purely political maneuver in response to the North and South Vietnamese. They hoped for an eventual peace, but in the short-term telling the American people that they had peace was good enough. Kissinger's statement "peace is at hand" set the stage for the conclusion to the Vietnam War. In the short term it solved a political quandary that the administration was ensconced in because of Thieu and the North Vietnamese going public. In the long term, however, they created a false impression with the American people, and the world, that the war was in its final stages. The quick political band aid turned into a long term headache for President Nixon.

President Nixon went on to soundly defeat Democratic Presidential Nominee George McGovern in an historic landslide on November 7. With the next round of talks not scheduled until November 20, Vietnam took a backseat to the post-election political business and Nixon planning for his second-term.

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