The Paris Negotiations

The entire summer of 1968 saw an elusive pas dr deux at the Paris peace negotiations. Hanoi and Washington sparred in a battle of principles. With the onset of winter, the second stage fregan: After the bombing ended, and working relationships were established between Averell Harriman and Xuan Thuy, the winter problem was to find a way to bring a fearful Saigon to the conference table (of whatever shape). This second stage—from Lyndon Johnson’s speech of October 31 until the opening of the enlarged conference on January 18 -brought a string of frustrating crises. The third stage has had the characteristics of a late winter, resembling at times a tantalizing spring. It began like the sessions of May and june last year: a dogged recital each Thursday of the maximum positions of each party. Yet underneath were tender shoots which might flower into a settlement of the protracted tragedy of Vietnam.

At the French government monolith where each delegation briefs the press, the atmosphere has become lively, gossipy, and often partisan. Questions are no longer exclusively polite requests for clarification. Sometimes they are deflating thrusts, designed to flaw the arguments of the spokesman for one or other delegation. ("You claim South and North Vietnam are like West and Fast tier many, but in fad there are many vital differences . . .”)


In the U.S. delegation a new, cool style is evident. Gone is the air of impatience that Harriman exuded. Gone too is the string of electoral pressures which in part accounted for that impatience. Henry Gabot Lodge, Lawrence Walsh, and Marshall Greene while he was there, seem calm and confident. They believe they have plenty of time. They believe the military situation in Vietnam, despite the NLF shellings at the end of February, is sound enough to prevent any sudden catastrophe.

The mild and measured reaction to the shellings indicated the tone. All options were to be kept open. None’ were to be closed by hasty over-reaction, or a threat which would hand the initiative to the other side. The delegation was conscious that Nixon had not yet computed his review of the Vietnam situation. Henry Cabot Lodge is no great respecter of the press of public opinion; he intends that it should not interfere with the process of negotiation. Gone too is the restlessness of Johnson, teaching for the tel ephone at all hours of the day and night The delegation feel now they are permitted a more measured pace. “Nixon is not always at you.”one of them observed. Whether this cool approach will bring results quickly enough is perhaps a very open question. Criticisms are heard of Harriman’s “insensitivity" to the South Vietnamese, of his having “bustled" them into the widened talks. Could thev have been brought in any other way?

The U.S. delegation has not yet been molded into a fully operational team. Events have not demanded it of them. The three top men who arrived in Jattuary were diverse, Walsh (who spent most of the earh weeks burdened with illness) is a lawver who is close to Secretary of State William P. Rogers Mis grasp of the issues is still incomplete. Marshall Greene, prolific in ideas, mam of I which he formulated while U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, stood somewhat apart from the command structure. If Walsh is Lodge’s second in command, and Philip Habib, who is totally abreast of even possible issue, is Lodge’s chief of staff, Greene was an “adviser.”He dreams broad dreams of the future of Asia. He is known to have the exceptional regard of Nixon: in mid-March the President brought him back to Washington to take up the key post of Vssistant Secretary of State for Hast Vsian Vffairs. Greene has influenced Nixon in his thinking about Indonesia, and the President’s Foreign Affairs article of October, 1967, “Asia after Vietnam,” contains ideas to which Greene gives ready expression. It is hard to see how Lodge could have found Greene fitting neatly into his methods and conceptualizations. Lodge seems the courtly amateur; Greene the sharp professional.

Trail of memories

The South Vietnamese delegation —quartered in offices and villas spread throughout the smart districts of Paris—are numerous and personally pleasant. But they carry themselves as men who know, however much they deny it, that the settlement of the war will not leave them where they are now. The delegation lacks coherence. The future may bring different destinies for its different elements. Ky alternates honeyed words with bellicose ones. One moment in Saigon, the next in Paris, the third skiing in the Swiss Alps, he seems an anomaly in the negotiating atmosphere which is emerging in Paris. Away from the peculiar political hothouse of Saigon, his authority seems to desert him.

It is hard to believe that Pham Dang Lam represents the same government. He is a Southerner of modest mien and a professional. Ky is an aggressive Northerner who, according to a woman who knows him vers well indeed, loves airplanes far more than politics. Lam seems happiest when Ky is out of Paris. He has made broad contacts with Parisian Vietnamese, even visiting important figures who are close to the NLE Such figures would no more receive Ky than the devil, but they have also ret rived Tran Buu Kiem, chief of the NLF delegation.

Lam has impressed these figures as a man open to compromise. Said one of them: “Bui Diem [the Saigon chief last year] was an arrogant mandarin ot the North, Americans prefer mandarins, hut South Vietnamese people prefer modest, populist leaders, Lam might be aide to appeal to them.”Lam has been hit terly critical of the U.S.; for “foisting” a constitution on Saigon; for overwhelming Vietnam with its military power: lot putting out feelers to the other side for private contacts without carrying the RV along with them. A close friend of Big Mini), the nationalist leader with neutralist leanings who is now back in Saigon, Lam can be expected in later stages of the negotiations to seek common ground with elements which now seem far to the left id his public, “Thursday" position.

Is Lodge as close to the Saigon leaders as his critits in the United Slates sometimes claim? Himself a courtly mandarin, he appeals to some Vietnamese leaders, and his rather compelling personality left a trail of memories in Saigon. But he is a diplomat par excellence, and friendship of the kind that sways policy is seldom found at the high reaches of diplomacy. Remember that when Lodge was in Saigon, Ky then Premier-acted very much the way Washington wanted him to act. Lodge had Ins way. But some think he might just as well seek to have Ids way one day with another segment of the Saigon political spectrum.

It is remembered in Vietnam anyway that Lodge was Ambassador when Diem fell (to this das Vietnamese Catholic opinion is cool to Lodge). He is pre-eminently a mandarin of die American public in terest. If Diem could “go,” other less substantial leadens could also “go.”At am rate, the leadership ot the RV delegation knows as well as everyone else that somehow ot other Nixon is soon going to have to end this war, whose eontinuance is the only certain source of the political strength they have. As of mid-March they were just as uncertain of Nix on’s specific police intentions as everyone else.

Spectacular contradictions

In the sessions, the RV’s Pham Dang Lam talks like a man con fronted by assassins. He has proba bly achieved some progress in tarn ming home the point that Saigon’s challengers are Communists-as if to remind non-Communist Europeans who sympathize with the NLF for anti-American or similar reasons, what side they should be on when Communism rears its head. But of ten Lam sounds defensive, almost panicky. He passes long stretches ol time trying to demonstrate that the RV is a legal, constitutional government. It sounds odd, coming from a government which is already recog nized by dozens of countries, and which says it invited the United States, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and the Philip pines to help it with a guerrilla problem. The Americans think he talks too long and too wildly. From the cupboard of his text emerges a vivid array of skeletons drawn from the experience of the whole globe and much of history. Lodge selects one or two themes often the DMZ issue—and states the U.S. position succinctly. Lam, in full orchestra! flight, will now and then, as if by chance, strike the one “right note" of the DMZ issue.

He has other problems. Unlike the DRV and the NIT, he is directing his argument purely at Vietnamese. He is upbraiding Vietnamese for ac lions—however reprehensiblecorn mined in their own country. Xuan Thuy and Tran Bun Kiem on the other hand are generally attacking foreigners for what they are doing in Vietnam. In such a situation it is not easy to picture Lam as a nationalist. Spectacular contradictions with U.S. jmsitions surlace at the briefings, late in Februaiy, the RV spokesman claimed the shellings were mainly against civilians. Minutes Intel Harold Kaplan, speaking lot the U.S. delegation, stated that they were mostly against military targets. In his first oration. I am declared “Communist propaganda also tries to represent the war in Vietnam as a civil war.”Henry kissinger in Foreign Affairs for January, 1969,characterized the war as a civil war in the lust eight lines of his article.

Overall, the RV delegation seems to stand on ground that is sinking slowly into the sea. Last November, they declared they could never participate in “four-sided" talks. Everyone in Paris including the Americans in private now refers to the talks as “four-sided.”Last November they demanded to “lead the Allied side" at the talks. That demand too has been shoved aside. They seem likely to meet defeat after defeat unless they drastically switch their ground and try to fashion a political future for themselves by outflanking the United States from the left, and declaring in public what some of them murmur in private, that all of Vietnam’s troubles are due to Americans. Then presumably the NLF might start to do business with the RV team however sordid the outcome might be.

They feel their greatest trump cant is the “assurances" they were granted by the United States as a condition for coming to Paris: essentially, that no coalition would be imposed upon them. But it is a thin assurance. According to plans being hatched in certain minds, there may occur a reconstitution of the Saigon government which will not appear to originate in Paris, or Washington, or anywhere hut in Saigon itsell. But the impulse in fact is unlikely to tome from within Saigon.


The DRV delegation are the yet etans of the conference. Xuan Thuy is the only oue of the delegation chiefs who has been in Paris since May, 1968. His team, almost none of whom have seen Hanoi for a year, are well settled into their coimnuneI like manner of life in a sprawling compound owned by tbc French Communist Party. The cessation of the bombing rallied their sagging spirits. Something concrete has been achieved at Paris. they make their way with patience, charm, and infinite subtlety along the knife edge of international politics. The Poles of Asia in a sense, they seem accustomed to tragedy, and have evolved their own oblique methods of coping with a world they never made.

Prom time to time the cough of a giant power stiikcs them with i»fluenza; thus the invasion of Czechoslovakia, which took attention away from their cause, and made it even more of a stiaiu than usual to hold the hand of both Moscow and Peking, From time to time fortune smiles: thus the thaw in Peking’s altitude toward Hanoi, Actually Hanoi is presently in as satisiactory a relationship with the three giant powers as it has ever been, or perhaps eon Id ever expect to be. Despite the Russian-Chinese clashes this spring, the DRV is on correct terms with Peking, warm terms with Moscow (there is contact in Paris more or less every day), and most remarkably, on respectful terms with the U.S, delegation at Paris, it is a striking a hievement.

The squat, white NLF villa is southwest of Paris, on a rise opposite a small lake, guarded by a van of French police who look like black beetles in a box. Parisian Vietnamese come and go, cementing ties with those with whom they hope to shale the leadership ol South Vietnam. Nicely mounted war photos areon the walls, Johnnie Walker whiskey (which the hosts pour out recklessly for special guests, as if they were Idling tumblers with water) sits on coffee tables among French and Vietnamese cigarettes.


One fact towers above all others about the NLF group: They have made it in Paris. Never mind the shape of the table, any table seems to them almost a magic carpet to power. They now vie with Thieu and Ky as representatives of the people of South Vietnam. Nerved by French sympathy, they have been flexing their diplomatic muscles throughout Europe, with visits to various ceremonies and colloquia in Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, most of the Eastern European capitals, am! Algeria. Their nineteen “embassies" abroad are feverishly active, in Paris, Tran Buu Kiem has been received by Foreign Minister Pebre. and he recently had a cordial visit with the Swedish ambassador, thanking him for permitting (and subsidizing) an NLF Information Office in Stockholm. Exchanging his black pajamas of the jungle for a neat blue business suit, Kietn has a I reads introduced main Europeans to the idea of the Front as a government. Like Lodge he can be a man of exceptional charm.

The NLF and the RV are allowed by their respective allies to claim the major spotlight. Each Thursday, Lodge and Xuan Thus speak briefly, almost perfunctorily, while Fran Buu Kiem and Pham Pang Lam extend the full concertina of their maximum charges and demands, The frantic verbosity of Lam tires, and sometimes embarrasses, the Americans. Some consider that Kiem s tirades have a partialis similar effect on Hanoi. It is more likely, however, that Hanoi sees benefits in letting Kiem be bellicose. They can sit back, sip their tea, and give the impression of total reasonableness, as if to entice the United States to accept the DRV-styled package for Communist victory.

The U.S. delegation, having readied a certain working relationship with the DRV, and struck by their more urbane and businesslike manner (compared with the Front), tends to consider the Front “tougher” than the DRV. But there is a paradox. True, the routines of twelve months have sobered Xuan Fluty. True, the NLF people, even Mrs. Binh, who is rather alluring for a conspiratorial heroine, are less practiced in the ways of the diplomatic world. Yet the Front, taken as a whole, is probably less Leninist than Hanoi, and by the end of 1969 this will count far more than matters of style.

No slow maturation over decades but rather national crisis has fashioned the NLF. Circumstance has made Communists of its leadership. They are “young” Communists who can claim no long involvement with Comintern and Cominform like Ho and General Giap. You are often taken aback to realize how recently they were citizens of Saigon or some other “government" location. Sometimes you find—as I did with one young economic expert that you hale actually encountered the man once in Saigon, then encountered him a few vears later as an “NLF man" in Fastern Kurope. Americans max think of NLF people as inhabitants of some net hot region, almost of an ideological rather than an empirical place. They, however, think of themselves as South Viet namese. Thev live in South Vietnam, even in its large towns. Frequently their transition from orthodox citizenship in the RV to clandestine NLF life has been gradual and not at all clear-cut.

Hardh surprising, then, that they are less Leninist than those nurtured in the Communist apparatus of the DRV. Le Duc Tho was talking in Paris in 1965 with a figure sympathetic to the NLF. The topic was how to end the war. Le Duc Tho resisted his host’s assertions that the sacrifices were too great to go on much longer and that compromises must now be made to get peace soon. He remarked: “But the people are there to make sacrifices.”The struggle is less immediate for Le Due I ho than for the NLF leadership. His view of it is thus more historical and less circumstantial than theirs.

Limits on dogma

It would he simple if we could conclude that the Northern “Leninists" are tougher for the United States to make peace with than the Southern “rebels.”We cannot. Once Leninists make up their mind to get peace, they can zigzag for it with the flexibility of eels-as both Lenin and Stalin demonstrated. Hanoi now feels the time lot reconstruction has come. The same Le Due Tho who in 1965, spoke so loftily of the sacrifice of the people is in ibent upon peace, and his delegation is exceedingly unlikely to leave Paris until peace comes. The U.S. delegation sees this clearly.

But is the United States correct to picture the NLF as the extremists? Only in one sense. They have been doing most of the fighting and they are hypersensitive to the; danger of a settlement in Paris that would whittle down what then ter rible bloodshed has won. Hanoi feels Peking and Moscow enforced upon it too drastic a compromise in 1954. But Southern leftists also think Hanoi somewhat abandoned them in 1954. leaving them without defense against Diem. The 1954 Communist position was “Leninist.” It was hardly extremist. In 1969 the NLF are not keen on any “Leninist” solution that is not also watertight from the point of view of those actually sweating it out in the South. Finis far the U.S. view seems sound.

But in terms of political goals the NLF are probably less tough. Henry Kissingei wrote shortly before going to Washington: “Both the Hanoi government and the U.S. are limited in their freedom of action In the state of mind of the population of South Vietnam which will ultimately determine the outcome of the conflict.”The NLF leadership is even more limited. Actual inlets of part of the South, they know the South cannot be ruled as the North is ruled. Southern people richer, less influenced be Confueian discipline. more religious are probable not as good material for Communist dictatorship as Northerners.

Geographically, moreover, the South must take more account than the North of its neutralist and proWestern neighbors, Cambodia. Laos, and Thailand. Thus the NLF decided in 1962 to stand on a platform of neutralism (scandalous as the Chinese told them it was to do so). There is one striking piece of evidence that this NLF position is determined by its practical situation iu the South, rather than by Leninist doctrine. In ipfia, the PRP (Communist Party within the NLF) favored the neutralist platform. Resistance to it and it was considerable -came primarily from non Communisi nationalist elements within the NLF who argued that neutralism would delay reunification too long and thus thwart the aspirations of the Vietnamese people.

Few deny that the NLF has come under increasing direction from Hanoi in recent years. But U.S. pressure on Vietnam may have been the biggest reason for tins. What must be calculated in Paris is how NLF-DRV relations can he expected to evolve as U.S. pressure recedes. In crisis the NLF and Hanoi have stood together. But the whole aim of U.S policy is to smooth the path for a Vietnam beyond crisis. The delicao of the U.S. posistion today derives from the U.S. attempt to find a political settlement for the South that will stick, and he as little denimental to U.S. interests as possible, in the absence of massive U.S. pres erne. Thus it must be a settlement that accords with the gut realities of politics and culture of the South.

If Yankee goes home

Here we confront the major theme beneath the surface of the Paris Talks in stage three: do-Americanization of the war. It is perhaps the key idea being developed by the U.S. delegation. Representing a new Administration, they feel free to criticize “excessive U.S. military intervention” in Vietnam. They are inclined to believe that the same purposes could have been accomplished by less heavy-handed means: less militarist; less fuss about elections; less impatient; less “welfarist.” “It was a mistake to send in 500,000 men,”said one, “and it was probably a mistake to bomb the North. When the Communists say Saigon is a ‘puppet regime’ it is hard to deny it.”

There are two sets of problems on the hidden agenda at Paris. The military problems: how to get a ceasefire and/or a planned, agreed, phased, policed withdrawal of outside troops. The political problems; Who shall then rule South Vietnam? De-Americanization, as it has been forming in the minds of some Americans, presents itself as a means of trying the two sets of issues together. The theory is this. If it is done gradually, if it is synchronized with the capacities of the RV to take over its own defense, U.S. militnn withdrawal can become, not a mortal peril for the RV, but the source of its renewed political strength, “They will be strong only when they iritis stand on their own feet.”

The theory lias its problems. The first is that the RV delegation do the Americans that U.S. withdrawal will “strengthen" them, Their uncertainty is only increased by NLF confidence that U.S. withdrawal will lead to the collapse ol the RV. Moreover they distrust the motives of Washington. Is it to strengthen Saigon that the U.S. is planning to withdraw? Or is it that the U.S. government, and U.S. public opinion, have just had enough ol the unrewarding Vietnam adventure?

Second, it is not dear that “Saigon" stands lor anv coherent political entity which would mani lest a strong dynamic of its own in the absence of the United States. The NLF is a political movement, just as the FLN in Algeria was a political movement, or the Indian Congress Party in the 1940s, or the Republican Party in the United Stales. The government in Saigon is based on no political party, nor on a group of men with deeply shared views and experiences. It is not a government based on a political movement. It looks more like a set of offices paid by the United States and filled by assorted individuals. When a movement competes politically with a set of assorted individuals, the result is not often the victory of the assorted individuals.

Third, it may simply be too late to de-Americanize without the NLF falling licit to the vacuum. To use indirect methods from the beginning would have been one course. To use heavy-handed methods the term Irecjuently used in criticism of Johnson—and then try and switch to in direct methods: that is far more problematic. By a bitter irony, U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam may have an inhnitels greater political impact on South Vietnam than five violent vcais of U.S. intervention. The hugest cjnestion about intervening thus becomes how to extricate oneself without a political impact more profound than the political impact of the intervention itself. For Saigon it is this. Can an Vsian government that has lived for years with hundreds of thousands of Western troops live without them? The U.S. lost a President Johnson in the course of using to end this war. Can Saigon expect to get away with losing less?

However, it may he that the Communists do leat a certain kind of de Americanization. For maximum favorable effect, they would like to see U.S withdrawal be rapid and based upon a public accord between tinUnited States and themselves. If it were gradual and unilateral, the Communists would face: problems, It is even conceivable that the United States could come to an “agreement" with a reconstituted Saigon government about withdrawal, which in bypassing Hanoi and the NUT and their demands would save American “face" and throw the Communist timetable out of gear. De Gaulle has told the United States that it would be in U.S. interests to get a government in Saigon that would usher the United States gracefully out. Of course much depends on what kind of government it would he.If it were headed by Big Minh and hacked by Washington, and if it arranged a staged U.S, withdrawal with Minh, it could be that the NLF would be undercut politically. The NLF may only be forced to make real compromises when there is in Saigon a government of left-of-center nationalists. This would be a threat to the1 NLF It would create far more serious political competition foi it than the present “puppet" government.

“Nixon’s war”?

Perhaps there are four elements in negotiation: the public declarations; the nuances and signals within the declarations; the working out behind closed doors of the “real" position of each side, based on the nuances and signals; sustained private contacts and bargaining. By mid-March the third kind of operation was under way, but no one made am secret of the fact that Richard Nixon held the key to process toward the fourth element.

Drawings by Jacques Callot.

How much longer can what is no longer disguised in Washington he disguised in Paris and Saigon: that decisions were made in 1968 which effectively began a dismantlement of Vietnam policy? The bombing did not work well. Much of the South remains open to NLF dial lenge at will. Massive force has not translated well into political effectiveness. A substitute policy has to be evolved and implemented with eonsisteno and a united front among the various arms of the U.S. government.

In Paris the Americans are trying for peace and de-Americanization. They no longer show the strain of diplomats representing a government that is pursuing not a diplomatic hut a military solution, but are they coasting along on Harriman’s and Johnson’s achievements? One admires their bland spirit. One also wonders how long it can endure. The war goes on; hundreds of Americans are killed each week. Choices will soon have to be made. Theories will have to be tested in the furnace of Vietnamese political reality. Withdrawal will soon have to begin or “Johnson’s war" may seem to have become “Nixon’s war.”Two doubts creep in about Mr. Nixon. If he gives any impression of being a “Duke of Plaza Toro” President on this issue—leading his Administration from behind disunity within the Administration over Vietnam could blunt much that the United States tries to do. And is he prepared to pay the price for pence? It is one thing to want peace. It is another, and a tougher tiling, to be ready to give up political and military aims which can only be accomplished by war. Ross Terrill

If REPORT CONTRIBUTORS Elizabeth B. Drew is the ATLANTIC’S Washington editor. Ward S. Just, a writer and editor for the Washington POST,was recently in Peru. Ross Terrill, author of the Special Report on the Negltiations in our December, 1968, issue, is an Australian political scientist and journalist.