Paris Peace Agreement

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Paris Peace Agreement (1973).The “Agreement on Ending War and Restoring Peace to Vietnam,” signed in Paris, 27 January 1973, concluded America's direct military participation in the Vietnam War. Following a decade of conflict and abortive negotiations, only in October 1972 did North Vietnam signal readiness to accept a cease‐fire, return U.S. prisoners of war (POWs), and allow negotiations among the Vietnamese parties. President Richard M. Nixon had been gradually withdrawing U.S. combat forces since June 1969 so that he could engage in detente with the Soviet Union and normalization of relations with the People's Republic of China. Nixon's aim was to reach an accord that would allow South Vietnam to defend itself in the hope that attacks from North Vietnam would lessen over time. The aim of the Communist government in Hanoi was to force the cessation of all U.S. military activity in order to position Communist forces (which had suffered severe losses in 1968–72) for renewed hostilities later.

“Backchannel” negotiations between Nixon's national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, and the special adviser to the North Vietnamese Politburo, Le Duc Tho, took place in 1970–71. On 8 October 1972, Hanoi offered a draft in which, according to Kissinger, the North Vietnamese “dropped their demand for a coalition government” and for the removal of the South Vietnamese leaders. Nixon temporarily halted the bombing of North Vietnam. But Kissinger failed to convince South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu to accept the text or Hanoi's timetable. On 26 October, Kissinger declared that since Washington and Hanoi were close to a final agreement, “peace is at hand.” He spoke also of further negotiations to accommodate Saigon's objections, but refused to elaborate. After Nixon was reelected, further talks with Hanoi led nowhere, convincing Kissinger to cable President Nixon to “increase pressure enormously through bombing and other means.”

U.S. round‐the‐clock bombing, including the use of B‐52 bomber aircraft, began on 18 December. The attacks ended 30 December and negotiations resumed in early January 1973. On 27 January, the agreement was signed in Paris—although on separate pages in order to accommodate Nguyen Van Thieu's refusal to recognize the political status of Hanoi's arm in the South, the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam (PRG). President Nixon also secretly indicated to Hanoi that the United States was prepared to consider supporting a postwar reconstruction program, assuming the peace held.

The agreement provided for an immediate, internationally supervised cease‐fire, the withdrawal of all foreign military forces from South Vietnam, the exchange of POWs, limitations on what military assistance could be provided to Communist and non‐Communist forces in the South, and formation of a National Council of Reconciliation and Concord.

Kissinger and Tho were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Price for 1973, but the latter declined to accept it. The agreement met with skepticism both in the United States and in South Vietnam, where there was much bitterness that the United States had abandoned its ally. By the fall of 1973, the cease‐fire was being violated on both sides, local Communist forces refused to cooperate in the search for U.S. soldiers listed as missing in action, and high‐level U.S.–North Vietnamese contacts ceased. The Paris Peace Agreement was swiftly overtaken by a “postwar war.”
[See also Bombing of Civilians; Vietnam War: Military and Diplomatic Course; Vietnam War: Changing Interpretations.]


Allan E. Goodman , The Lost Peace: America's Search for a Negotiated Settlement of the Vietnam War, 1978.
William S. Turley , The Second Indochina War: A Short Political and Military History, 1986.
David L. Anderson, ed., Shadow on the White House: Presidents and the Vietnam War, 1945–1975, 1993.

Allan E. Goodman