Memories of the historic Paris Peace Accords
50 years ago, on January 27, 1973, the Paris Peace Accords were signed, forming a key turning point in the Vietnamese people’s resistance war against the US. Việt Nam News reporter Vũ Thu Hà spoke with former Deputy Prime Minister Vũ Khoan, who was present at the historic event.
Could you tell us the background that led to the Paris Peace Accords?
In 1965, the United States sent troops to the South of Việt Nam to directly participate in the war while intensifying bombing raids in the North. The situation was really tense. In January 1967, the 13th Plenum of the Party Central Committee (the third tenure) for the first time set out the motto of "talking while fighting, fighting while talking.”
The then Minister of Foreign Affairs and Vice Chairman of the Council of Ministers Nguyễn Duy Trinh said that if the United States completely stopped bombing the North, we could consider negotiating. But by the end of 1967 the word “consider” was changed to "will".
I remember that in a reception to welcome a Mongolian diplomatic mission to visit our country in December 1967, Minister Trinh told me, who was working as his interpreter, to pay particular attention to an important change of words when interpreting for him. The one-word change from “consider negotiating” to “will negotiate” paved the way for the Paris peace talks.
Initially, it was two-party talks between North Vietnam and the US. But we insisted that the negotiation should involve the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam. Things started to change one year later.
As we all know, there was the General Offensive in 1968, which dealt a heavy blow to US forces in the South. The Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Việt Nam was established, with Madam Nguyễn Thị Bình as Foreign Minister.
The US presidential election also took place in the same year. Under the pressure from both the political sphere and the battlefield, the US accepted four-party talks, which lasted until January 1973.
What advantages and disadvantages did Việt Nam have in the negotiation process?
We enjoyed two main advantages. The first was the continuous victories on the battlefield in both the South and North. The second is that we won the backing of the international community, including the American people. They supported ending the war and restoring peace.
As for disadvantages, we had to fight against a superpower, so we suffered from heavy losses of life. At that time, the relationships between our fellow socialist countries, the USSR and China, deteriorated and broke up. They held different points of view toward our negotiation with the US. How to deal with our allies in that context posed a lot of difficulties for our diplomatic sector.
How do you assess the significance of this negotiation?
This is probably the longest negotiation to end the war and restore peace in history. It helped us realise half of Uncle Hồ’s will to “Fight to kick America out”. The core content of the Paris Agreement was a total and unconditional withdrawal of American troops from Việt Nam. Meanwhile, the north’s forces were allowed to stay. This was the result that overhauled the scales of the two sides forces, paving the way for us to go on fulfilling the second part of Uncle Hồ’s saying of "fighting to topple the puppet regime."
Secondly, the fact that a superpower like the US was forced to withdraw troops out of Việt Nam marked a significant event that contributed to changing the balance of power worldwide.
The negotiation also raised Việt Nam’s position on the international arena. I was then accompanying Foreign Minister Nguyễn Duy Trinh to attend the signing ceremony of the Paris Peace Accords. On the way back via the Soviet Union and China, the atmosphere was jubilant all the way from Paris back home, and international friends and overseas Vietnamese all welcomed us.
I still remember it vividly to this day. In the same year, many countries established diplomatic relations with North Viêt Nam, including major countries such as Japan, France, Germany, Australia, and Canada.
The agreement marked a brilliant milestone in the history of Vietnamese revolutionary diplomacy. What lessons were learnt for Vietnamese diplomacy?
I think it has left many lessons for Việt Nam’s diplomatic sector. I would summarise it by four words starting with “K”. The first is “Kết hợp” (unite together). The second is “Kiên định” (unwavering). The third is “Kiên trì” (persistence) and the Fourth is “Khôn khéo (tact).
Firstly, we had the united strength of the whole nation and combined different fronts such as military, politics, and diplomacy in our struggle. We have formed an international front where people around the world stood side by side with us to support our cause. This is what we call “combining the national strength with the strength of the times.”
Secondly, we were unwavering in our stance that Việt Nam was an independent and sovereign country enjoying unity and territorial integrity. We were also firm in insisting our demands be met, such as demanding four-party talks or the total and unconditional withdrawal of US forces from Việt Nam.
Thirdly, we were persistent. Because in the war, we were underdogs fighting a much stronger enemy, so victory could not come overnight.
Finally, diplomacy required being tactful. We had to employ short-term tactics to achieve long-term strategies. For example, in this negotiation, we insisted on toppling the regime in the South, but then we changed the tactics to first kick the US out of Việt Nam, and let the country’s internal affairs be dealt with by the Vietnamese people later.
The 1973 Tết holiday must have been a very special for you after coming back from such a historic event. Can you share some of your memories?
When we arrived at Gia Lâm airport, it was just before Tết. The people in the North had a really special Tết. The atmosphere was extremely joyful and excited because after many years of arduous resistance with bullets and bombings, losses of life and sacrifices, we could now welcome the first spring with a sense of freedom: no more bomb sirens, and no more scenes of evacuation and hiding. However, behind that excitement, the Party Central Committee was quietly planning new battles so that two years later, we liberated the South and reunified our country.