In Paris, Henry A. Kissinger, left, and Le Duc Thos initialed the agreement.

  

Vietnam Peace Pacts Signed; America's Longest War Halts  

By Flora Lewis , January 28, 1973

Paris, Jan. 27 --The Vietnam cease-fire agreement was signed here today in eerie silence, without a word or a gesture to express the world's relief that the years of war were officially ending.

The accord was effective at 7 P.M. Eastern standard time.

Secretary of State William P. Rogers wrote his name 62 times on the documents providing &emdash; after 12 years &emdash; a settlement of the longest, most divisive foreign war in America's history.

The official title of the text was "Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam." But the cold, almost gloomy atmosphere at two separate signing ceremonies reflected the uncertainties of whether peace is now assured.

The conflict, which has raged in one way or another for over a quarter of a century, had been inconclusive, without clear victory or defeat for either side.

After a gradually increasing involvement that began even before France left Indochina in 1954, the United States entered into a full-scale combat role in 1965. The United States considers Jan. 1, 1961, as the war's starting date and casualties are counted from then.

By 1968, when the build-up was stopped and then reversed, there were 529,000 Americans fighting in Vietnam. United States dead passed 45,000 by the end of the war.

The peace agreements were as ambiguous as the conflict, which many of America's friends first saw as generous aid to a weak and threatened ally, but which many came to consider an exercise of brute power against a tiny nation.

The peace agreements signed today were built on compromises that permit the two Vietnamese sides to give them contradictory meanings and, they clearly hope, to continue their unfinished struggle in the political arena without continuing the slaughter.

The signing took place in two ceremonies. In the morning, the participants were the United States, North Vietnam, South Vietnam and the Vietcong. Because the Saigon Government does not wish to imply recognition of the Vietcong's Provisional Revolutionary Government, all references to that government were confined to a second set of documents. That set was signed in the afternoon, and by only the United States and North Vietnam.

At the last moment, it was found that two copies in English of the texts, which were to have been signed by Mr. Rogers and North Vietnam's Foreign Minister, Nguyen Duy Trinh, in the afternoon ceremony, were missing.

The plan had been to give a signed copy in each language to each of the four delegations. The United States prepared the English documents and had given the two copies to the South Vietnamese to inspect. They were not returned, leaving a total of six instead of eight sets of documents to be signed by the United States and North Vietnam.

These texts began by saying that North Vietnam "with the concurrence of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam" and the United States "with the concurrence of the Government of the Republic of Vietnam" had reached agreement.

South Vietnam's foreign minister, Tran Van Lam, indicated that he did not want to accept signed copies of this text, because Saigon objects to mention of the revolutionary government by that name.

Asked whether the South Vietnamese action might weaken or undermine the degree of Saigon's "concurrence," American officials said, "No, no. They have concurred."

Each of the other delegations wound up with four sets of signed agreements. Saigon took only two, the English and Vietnamese versions mentioning only "parties" to the conference.

In the morning ceremony, all four parties signed identical agreements, except for one protocol, or annexed document, in which the United States agreed to remove the mines it had planted in the waters of North Vietnam.

The preamble on the four-party documents mentioned no government by name and referred only to the "parties participating in the Paris conference on Vietnam."

Almost immediately after the morning session involving four foreign ministers, military delegations of the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese flew off on their way to Saigon.

They, with American and South Vietnamese officers, will form a joint military commission that is to carry out the cease-fire. Their departure for the South Vietnamese capital gave a touch of reality to the strangely emotionless way in which the rite of peace was performed in Paris.

After the morning ceremony, which lasted 18 minutes, the four foreign ministers, their aides and guests filed wordlessly through separate doors into a curtained foyer.

There, participants said, they clinked champagne glasses, toasted "peace and friendship," and shook hands all around. But such amiability was concealed from observers and above all from the cameras that might have recorded a scene of the Vietnamese enemies in social contact.

A similar 15 minutes of cordiality followed the 11-minute afternoon ceremony, attended only by the American and North Vietnamese delegations.

The agreement was signed at the gigantic round table, covered with a prairie of green baize, where the four parties to the Paris conference have been speechifying at each other, and often vilifying each other, almost weekly for four years.

The great ballroom of the former Hotel Majestic, where the table stands, is crammed with crystal and gilt chandeliers, lush tapestries and ornate gilt moldings. But the scene was as glum as the drizzly, gray Paris sky outside. The men all wore dark suits.

The touches of human color were few. Mrs. Nguyen Thi Binh, Foreign Minister of the Vietcong Provisional Revolutionary Government, wore an amber ao dai with embroidery on the bodice, an unusual ornament for her.

Mrs. Rogers wore a dress with a red top and navy skirt. In the afternoon, when there were only two delegations and thus more room for guests, all the American secretaries who had been involved were brought in and they brightened the room.

The texts of the agreements were bound in different colored leather &emdash; red for the North Vietnamese, blue for the United States, brown for South Vietnam and green for the Vietcong. French ushers solemnly passed them around on each signature. Mrs. Binh overlooked one place to sign and had to be given an album back for completion.

Mr. Rogers and Mr. Trinh used a large number of the black pens and then handed them to delegation members as souvenirs. William J. Porter, the new Deputy Undersecretary of State who had been the United States delegate to the semi-public talks until this month, flew to Paris with Mr. Rogers and sat at the table with him.

Heywood Isham, acting head of the United States delegation, Marshall Green, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and William H. Sullivan, Mr. Green's deputy, who has been leading technical talks with the North Vietnamese here, completed the American group at the table.

Two rectangular tables, carefully placed alongside the main table to symbolize the separation of the four delegations into two warring sides at the start of the conference in 1969, were reserved for the ambassadors of Canada, Hungary, Indonesia and Poland.

Their countries are contributing troops to an international commission that is to supervise the cease-fire.

Mr. Rogers and his Washington-based aides flew home immediately after the ceremony. Unexpectedly, Mr. Lam went with them.

Mr. Sullivan remained in Paris to receive the list of American prisoners from Hanoi and to hold further technical meetings on the many unsettled details of how arrangements are to be carried out.

At the airport before leaving, Mr. Rogers made his only comments on the event so long awaited with spurts of hope and bitter despair.

"It's a great day," he said.

He said President Nixon had devoted himself to building a structure of peace and continued: "The events in Paris today are a milestone in achieving that peace."

"I hope there'll be a cease-fire soon in all of Indochina," he added.


Go to: Vietnam Medal of Honor Citations

neil@mishalov.com

© 2000 by Neil Mishalov