Peace is at Hand

At the end of September Kissinger convinced Nixon to go for a settlement prior to the election. If they could not settle they were free to choose the second option, an escalation of the bombing of the north. With this in mind Nixon met with Gromyko at Camp David on October 2 . He told him that the United States was going to present their final offer to North Vietnam at the next round of talks and that if they were not accepted he would turn to "other methods."

On October 8 Tho presented Kissinger with a new plan. This new plan was seen by Kissinger as an enormous breakthrough and 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 even more 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—which Nixon would see as a tacit admission that communism was a broken system. Over the next two days both sides worked furiously to iron out all the details. To keep Nixon apprised of the situation Kissinger regularly sent cables back to Washington in between long sessions of negotiations. 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 on October 12. It was at this meeting where Kissinger told Nixon he had gone "three for three" in his negotiations that year with the Soviet Union, China, and Vietnam. Nixon approved of the plan as long as Thieu was also willing to sign, which Kissinger was optimistic that he was. 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 Theiu 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 Nixon which stated his support for the agreement. On October 22, as the United States and North Vietnam finalized the agreement, Thieu informed Kissinger that he would not sign off of the agreement. 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 but on October 25 they broadcasted all the details about the negotiations and the major points of the agreement over Radio Hanoi. They accused Nixon of negotiating in bad faith and unnecessarily extending the war. With the election just around the corner, Kissinger was called upon to rebut the North Vietnamese charges and explain why the Nixon Administration had decided not to sign an agreement that would have ended the war and that was already agreed upon. For the first time Kissinger was to hold a live television press conference in front of the nation. In this press conference Kissinger proclaimed that "peace was at hand."

This proclamation upset Nixon as did the entire press conference. Kissinger had placed himself as the primary author of the negotiations effectively removing Nixon from the equation. Furthermore, Kissinger had failed to make the points that Nixon had asked him to make: specifically that their approach was to find "peace with honor" unlike George McGovern who wanted "peace by surrender." However , there was little if any political fallout from the agreement failing to be signed on time as Nixon soundly defeated McGovern on November 7. In the weeks that followed tensions continued to grow between Nixon and Kissinger as North Vietnam delayed agreeing to another round of talks until November 20.

At these meetings Kissinger gave Tho a list of sixty-nine changes that Thieu had presented in a vain effort to get an agreement that Thieu would sign. The spirit of conciliation that had been present in October was missing during these later sessions. Both the North Vietnamese and the Americans proposed new changes and reneged on principles that were already agreed on in October. While the negotiations were taking place, Nixon and Kissinger sent a plethora of cables back and forth in an effort to form a strategy to save the negotiations. In these cables Nixon vacillates between continuing the negotiations and breaking them off and escalating the bombings on North Vietnam in an attempt to bring them to their knees and end the war. On the November 30 Nixon met with Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird, Deputy National Security Advisor Alexander M. Haig, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to discuss the military response if the talks broke down. Meanwhile, Kissinger and Tho were able to cobble together an agreement that Kissinger believed was even better than the October agreement. However, it was not going to be acceptable to Thieu. Kissinger proposed a one week recess to consult with Nixon.

In December Nixon decided to attempt to complete an agreement with North Vietnam. He instructed Kissinger to complete the agreement if possible even if it meant cutting out Thieu. He was to inform Tho to accept the necessary changes that the United States demanded or reap the consequences of an escalation in bombing. When the meetings resumed on December 4, Nixon and Kissinger felt that this was the last chance to come to an agreement before the military option would have to be taken. With Congress reconvening in January and public support for the war waning it was time to end the war once and for all. Tho and Kissinger negotiated until the 13 without coming to an agreement. North Vietnam was unwilling to concede principles that had been won on the battlefield over the course of the war. Why freely give up something that had been legitimately won? On December 13 Kissinger and Tho parted ways and spoke of meeting again after a two week recess. After the talks broke off again both sides placed blame on the other party. Nixon, Kissinger, and Haig met on the December 14 to discuss their next move. They believed that North Vietnam was playing on the growing rift between Washington and South Vietnam. If they delayed they may get a better deal from Congress. Also they had to worry about getting Thieu to sign an agreement that he had thus far been opposed to signing. Kissinger outlined two options: escalate bombings in the north and simultaneously pressure Thieu to sign the agreement, or they could continue the negotiations in January and if necessary sign a bilateral agreement with North Vietnam. Nixon decided the best way to end the war would be a massive escalation of bombings on the north. Kissinger believed that they should restrict it to below the 20th parallel while Nixon believed that they should have unrestricted bombing of the north. This would help solve the dilemma that had been prevalent throughout the negotiations namely: convincing the North Vietnamese that the United States was willing to continue the war if their conditions were not met and to convince the South Vietnamese that the United States was going to end the war with or without their support. On December 14 Nixon authorized Operation Linebacker II. Kissinger suggested that Nixon go in front of the American people to garner public support for the escalation, but Nixon opted to have Kissinger give a press conference on the current state of the negotiations and the reasons for the delay.