INT: That is the difficult period, when Tuh has to be consulted. How did Kissinger think that Tuh would agree to the October draft agreement?
JN: Well, this where we get into the question of the eagerness to get of Vietnam and the eagerness to conclude an agreement rapidly. with the benefit of hindsight, obviously that was not thought through perhaps quite as well as it might have been. Dr. Kissinger expectation and hope and in fact his commitment to the North Vietnamese was that we wouldn't change a word of that agreement, that we would take it back to Washington, we would review it, then we would go on to Saigon and after getting the approval of Saigon government, Dr. Kissinger, you may recall, was scheduled to go to Hanoi and initial the agreement just prior to our election and the cease-fire was going to go into effect, I think, two or three days before the 1972 election. Well, that scenario fell apart, because President Tuh had not been consulted beforehand, had, I think, difficulties of two kinds. First was simply the psychological difficulty of being presented with an agreement, a final agreement, with which he was essentially completely unfamiliar. And secondly, he had some real problems with some of the specific terms and those had to be worked out and so in the end, the result of that was that we couldn't go through with the deal at that particular time and it required several more months, well until the middle of January 1973 to be exact, before we could put the final touches on the Paris peace accords.
INT: I know you had reser...
INT: This is continuation of the interview with Ambassador Negroponte and it's tape 105... tape 10549. Could you summarize in October 1972, mentioning the date, how the pace of negotiations speeded up?
JN: Well in October of 1972, the pace of the negotiations intensified dramatically and that began with the presentation to Dr. Kissinger, by Lai Duc Toh, of a draft agreement to end the war and that was presented to Dr. Kissinger on October eighth and after that, the pace intensified dramatically and ultimately led to the agreement, which was signed in January of the following year.
INT: Now, the delay between the October and January is due to the South's reluctance. Can you explain what your reservations were, that Tuh would find this agreement difficult to handle and why Kissinger thought that Tuh would agree?
JN: Well, you've got to remember, there was a lot of pressure... Let me start that one again. there was a lot of pressure in October of 1972 to produce results and a great deal of eagerness to accomplish the agreement as quickly as possible. So that when Lai Duc Toh presented this draft to Dr. Kissinger, his response was to negotiate a completed draft in a period of four days and that draft agreement was essentially the one we signed four months later. But in the process, we really overlooked consulting the government of South Vietnam adequately and I myself had some real reservations as to whether or not this draft agreement would be acceptable to Saigon and as you know, when we did got to South Vietnam, several days later, President Tuh balked. He had problems with a number of the terms and as a result, the whole process was delayed for a couple of months to allow us time to make some changes to the agreement, very few as a matter of fact, but we also were able to make some additional preparations for implementation of the agreement, including intensified deliveries of arms and other military supplies to the government of South Vietnam, so it would be in the best possible position to cope with a cease-fire situation.
INT: Still in October, there has been a lot of misunderstanding of the statement that Kissinger made that peace is at hand. Can you explain what the real purpose of that statement was?
JN: Yep. On October twenty sixth, after our talks with North Vietnam had temporarily faltered, Dr. Kissinger had his famous press conference, where he made the statement to the effect that peace was at hand and that is perhaps one of the most widely misinterpreted statements of that, because some of his liberal critics say that he made that statement in order to deceive the American public into thinking that we had achieved peace, so that they would take a more favorable view of President Nixon in the up-coming election. But the real intent of Dr. Kissinger's statement to the effect that peace was at hand, in my view, was to reassure Hanoi that we had not abandoned the negotiating table and that as soon as possible after our elections, we would return to it in order to conclude the peace that we had begun to negotiate.
INT: In fact, there was another major event in December 1972, the bombing against North Vietnam. What was the effect of that pressure on the North Vietnamese?
JN: Well, my interpretation of the so-called Christmas bombing in December of 1972 was that it was instituted because we had developed a concern that the North Vietnamese might have found in December the agreement that we had negotiated two months earlier less attractive to them, because after all, Saigon had now had a chance to prepare for the cease-fire, the element of surprise had been removed and we had committed to sending Saigon one or two billion dollars worth of military supplies, advanced fighter aircraft and so forth. so that I believe that a debate developed in Hanoi as to whether or not to go through with the agreement and this manifested itself in Paris in the form of the North Vietnamese delegation suddenly re-opening a number of issues in the peace agreement and whereas one day we were on the verge of finalizing the text, the next day, there were suddenly ten or twelve different issues that popped up and were unresolved. And then Lai Duc Toh said that he had to go back to Hanoi for consultations and so the concern developed in Washington that the North Vietnamese were perhaps thinking of withdrawing or abandoning this negotiated deal and so the Christmas bombing was instituted and I think that that definitely had the effect of bringing them back to the table extremely quickly, because within a matter of ten days, they indicated that they were ready to resume talks and after that, we wrapped up the agreement in very short order.
INT: How much do you think that that Christmas bombing gave a degree of assurance to the South that the fire power was there and might be there in the future?
JN: I don't know if that was a consideration. It may have had that side-effect, but my impression at the time certainly was that the bombing was solely and principally directed at making sure that Hanoi did not withdraw or retreat from the terms of the agreement.
INT: In January of 1973, President Tuh having previously balked, went along. What happened there, how was he convinced?
JN: Well, I think that Saigon had grave reservations about the agreement all along, not only in October of 1972, when they balked, but throughout the entire process. The agreement was simply not the outcome that they had desired or hoped for, so they were brought along with great difficulty at every step of the way. But in early January, after we had concluded the text with the government of North Vietnam, basically we informed President Tuh that we planned to go forward with the initialing and signing of this agreement, in Paris, on a specific date and time and that we expected the government of South Vietnam to join us at that time and we welcomed them, but that if they were not present, that we planned to go ahead and sign the agreement in any event. So I think President Tuh could see the disastrous implications for South Vietnam if he had not gone along and had a representative at the signing and therefore a South Vietnamese representative was present and did sign the agreement.
INT: Did you have doubts yourself that you were pressurizing a long-time ally into an agreement that wasn't ideal?
JN: Well, I personally was very pessimistic throughout and was quite certain that this would ultimately lead to a very unfortunate outcome for the South Vietnamese government. I believe the terms left Saigon in a very unfavorable position, vis a vis the North, and I was also concerned about our ability to enthe agreement once we had fully withdrawn from the country.
INT: What would have happened do you think in Vietnam had there been no Watergate?
JN: Thequestion of what would have happened in Vietnam had there been no Watergate is one of those sixty four thousand dollar questions and I think that one can only speculate. personally, I doubt that there was the political will in the United States to re-engaged in Vietnam and that once the North Vietnamese started violating the agreement, particularly with Saigon suffering under reduced levels of military and economic assistance from the United States, the situation would have deteriorated so rapidly that there would have been no way of saving that situation, other than re-involving ourselves in Vietnam in ways that would have been unacceptable to the American people. So Watergate or not, I think once we signed that agreement in January of 1973, we were basically out of there.