187. Editorial Note

After the Easter Offensive began on March 30, 1972, military, not diplomatic, action dominated events in Vietnam for the next two months. On May 4th, the United States formally suspended the public talks, after informally doing so after the offensive began. (See Footnote 6, Document 119) In a May 15 memorandum to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs, Henry A. Kissinger, John H. Holdridge of the National Security Council staff observed: “What emerges more clearly than ever from this press conference [Le Duc Tho’s in Paris on May 12] is that the DRV is holding firmly to its course [Page 659] of insisting on a political settlement as the precondition for resolving any other issues. Tho also left no doubt that we must be the cat’s paw in changing the Saigon Administration.” He concluded: “For the moment then, there has been absolutely no change in the DRV negotiating posture and we doubt there will be until the military situation evolves more decisively in one direction or another.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 160, Vietnam Country Files, Vietnam, May 1972)

Hanoi’s representatives in Paris, continuing to see the public sessions as productive propaganda platforms, each week demanded that the United States return to the plenaries. A U.S. Delegation message summarized one such demand as follows: “DRV and PRG liaison officers telephoned notably brief messages to USDel morning May 23, calling on US to end its alleged acts of war escalation in Vietnam and demanding a meeting of the Paris Talks on Thursday, May 25, as usual.” (Message 9819 from USDel Paris, May 23; ibid., Box 191, Paris Talks/Meetings, Paris Talks, January–June 1972)

The United States Delegation responded vigorously: “While calling for another meeting on Thursday, May 25, 1972, your side has confined itself to repeating the same propaganda themes, without, however, giving the slightest indication of what it would be willing to discuss.

“In the meantime, the situation in South Viet-Nam since the last plenary session shows that although you have not attained the military successes that you were hoping for, your forces are nonetheless continuing their offensive relentlessly, while additional units of the North Vietnamese regular army have crossed the demilitarized zone to join the divisions already present in South Viet-Nam.

“Everything seems to indicate that what you are seeking is still a military victory in the field and not a negotiated solution at the conference table. Under these conditions, our side sees no useful purpose in meeting on Thursday, May 25, 1972, as usual.” (Message 9864 from USDel Paris, May 23; ibid.)

Hanoi repeated its demand for resumption of the talks on June 1 and June 8. (Message 10287 from USDel Paris, May 30, and message 10795 from USDel Paris, June 6; ibid.)

Kissinger wrote to Ambassador Bunker in Saigon on June 6: “To insure that we maintain the best possible posture here, the President’s current thinking is that we offer renewal of discussions in the secret channel on or about the 27th of June. This meeting would be designed to explore whether the proper conditions exist for the resumption of plenaries. While this schedule is not yet firm, I wanted you and President Thieu to be aware of our thinking at this early stage.” (Backchannel message WH 2076 from Kissinger to Bunker, June 6; ibid., Box 869, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Camp David Cables, January 1–July 31, 1972)

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On June 10, General Haig cabled Colonel Guay, the American intermediary with the North Vietnamese in Paris, to convey the following message to the other side:

“Since the last private meeting between the North Vietnamese and the U.S., major events have transpired on both sides. They serve further to underline the importance of bringing the war in Indochina to a rapid conclusion on a basis just for all.

“The U.S. side therefore proposes a private meeting between Special Advisor Le Duc Tho and Dr. Kissinger on June 28 at 1:00 p.m., at the usual location preparatory to resumption of the plenary sessions of the Paris conference. The purpose of this meeting would be review in detail the positions of both sides so as to find possible means of resolving differences and to provide adequate instructions to the negotiators at the plenary sessions.

“The U.S. side, for its part, would approach this private meeting with a constructive and positive attitude.” (Message 2 from Haig to Guay, June 2; ibid.)