46. Editorial Note

On the evening of October 7, 1970, in a televised address from the Oval Office, President Richard Nixon proposed a “major new initiative for peace” in Vietnam. Plans for the initiative had been closely held [Page 122] within the administration. In an October 6 memorandum to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs, Henry Kissinger, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird recommended a number of last minute changes to the President’s speech, many of which were incorporated into the version the President ultimately delivered. In addition, Laird called Kissinger the next day, concerned about the lack of a reference to the successes of Vietnamization. According to a transcript of their conversation, they had the following exchange:

“L: I didn’t bring this matter up with the President because he seemed to be clear on it when he said about making progress in VN. I am concerned about the speech tonight—to get something in early in the speech that this new initiative was made possible by Vietnamization program. You have to make some reference to this or they will say why didn’t you do this a year ago.

“K: Let me see where we can put it in.

“L: It’s important because some people would say why didn’t we do it a year ago.

“K: A good point. I will look at the speech.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Kissinger Telephone Conversations, Box 7, Chronological File)

In his address, the President outlined five proposals, including a cease-fire-in-place without preconditions, which would “encompass not only the fighting in Vietnam but in all of Indochina,” be “part of a general move to end the war in Indochina,” and be “effectively supervised by international observers.” He acknowledged the difficulty of achieving this aim “in a guerrilla war where there are no frontlines,” but pledged that “our side is ready to stand still and cease firing.” He cautioned that any cease-fire should not be “the means by which either side builds up its strength,” and should end “all kinds of warfare. This covers the full range of actions that have typified this war, including bombing and acts of terror.” The second proposal was for an international “Indochina Peace Conference,” based upon “the essential elements of the Geneva Accords of 1954 and 1962.” Third, Nixon explained the readiness of the United States to “negotiate an agreed timetable for complete withdrawals [of troops] as part of an overall settlement.” His fourth proposal called for “a political solution that reflects the will of the South Vietnamese people,” and the “existing relationship of political forces.” While he pledged that the United States would abide by whatever political process the parties chose, he noted that the other side was demanding “the right to exclude whomever they wish from government,” which was “patently unreasonable.” The final proposal, which he described as a “simple act of humanity” and a means to establish North Vietnamese good faith, was for the “immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of war held by both [Page 123] sides.” In closing, the President put his initiative in a broader perspective. Citing an existing cease-fire in the Middle East, he posited that if one could also be achieved in Indochina, “we could have some reason to hope that we had reached the beginning of the end of war in this century” and could be on the “threshold of a generation of peace.” The full text is in Public Papers: Nixon, 1970, pages 825–828.

After the speech, Kissinger called the President to congratulate him. They also analyzed the role of the Cambodian operation in March 1970:

“K: Incidentally, George Shultz said, coming back from Vietnam, he has learned without Cambodia we would be dead.

“P: Right. He and Ehrlichman both. Ehrlichman said Cambodia was the big thing. Listen, Henry, Cambodia won the war.

“K: I think we have them on the defensive.

“P: What did Dobrynin say?

“K: I did not talk to him. I just sent it to him in an envelope.

“P: I was playing a little dumb on that today. You ought to call Dobrynin on it—say, look don’t be foolish, this is a great step forward. Generation of peace, don’t you think that is a good line?

“K: Right. It made all headlines each time you used it. You made a major step forward again.

“P: As you know, I don’t think cease-fire is worth a damn, but now that we have done it we are looking down their throats.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Kissinger Telephone Conversations, Box 7, Chronological File)

The North Vietnamese response to the President’s speech was overwhelmingly negative. In an October 15 memorandum to the President, Kissinger noted that the Democratic Republic of Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry issued an official statement claiming that “the Vietnamese people and the Government of the DRV sternly condemn and categorically reject the deceptive ‘peace’ proposal made by the Nixon Administration.” (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 190, Paris Talks/Meetings, 1 Oct 70–Dec 70)