Paris Peace Accords

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Paris Peace Accords

By 1967, the Vietnam War (1954–75) had been going on for thirteen years and Americans were more against their country's participation than ever before. Five hundred thousand American troops were overseas, fighting a war few believed was winnable. (The Vietnam War had pitted the Democratic Republic of Vietnam [North Vietnam] against the U.S.-backed Republic of Vietnam [South Vietnam]).

In 1968, North Vietnam agreed to enter into peace talks with the United States, led by President Lyndon Johnson (1908–1973; served 1963–69). The talks, which took place in Paris, France, were not going well, and within eight months Richard Nixon (1913–1994; served 1969–74) had taken over the U.S. presidency. Throughout his campaign, Nixon had promised “peace with honor,” yet the talks stalled for three-and-one-half years.

In February 1970, national security advisor Henry Kissinger (1923–) began secret one-on-one meetings with North Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho (1911–1990). These meetings were not part of the formal peace process. Like the peace talks, however, progress was slow. By the summer of 1972, Nixon wanted to put Vietnam behind him so that he would be free of it for the next presidential election. For the same reason, the president was working on improving relations with China and the Soviet Union. North Vietnam worried that it would be isolated in international politics if the three larger countries worked through their tensions. Peace would also mean that Vietnam could rid itself of U.S. military presence.

By October 1972, a tentative cease-fire agreement was reached. The accord, or agreement, promised the withdrawal of American troops and freedom for American prisoners of war. The United States would provide economic assistance as Vietnam rebuilt its infrastructure. Nixon suspended all bombing north of the twentieth parallel on October 22. It looked as if peace had finally arrived.

Nguyen Van Thieu (1923–2001), leader of South Vietnam, had not been consulted during these negotiations, and he was furious. Talks broke off on December 13 when Thieu demanded changes to which North Vietnam could not agree. Nixon, tired of the situation, promised Thieu $1 billion in military equipment and assured him that the United States would come to his aid if North Vietnam did not adhere to the agreement.

To ensure North Vietnam understood the seriousness of the United States's commitment to South Vietnam, Nixon bombed the country relentlessly for twelve consecutive days and nights. Known as the Christmas bombing, the event included 35,000 tons of bombs that wiped out warehouses, oil tanks, factories, power plants, transportation terminals, and airfields. Eighty percent of North Vietnam's electrical capacity was destroyed.

Talks resumed in Paris on January 8, 1973, and the Paris Peace Accords was signed on January 27. The accords did not end the Vietnam War, however, as hostilities continued between North and South Vietnam. It was not until the fall of Saigon (the capital of South Vietnam) on April 30, 1975, that hostilities finally ended and the countries were united as one.