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1969

Negotiators differ on diplomatic exchange

Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, at the 18th plenary session of the Paris peace talks, says he finds common ground for discussion in the proposals of President Richard Nixon and the National Liberation Front. In reply, Nguyen Thanh Le, spokesman for the North Vietnamese, said the programs were “as different as day and night.”

At the 16th plenary session of the Paris talks on May 8, the National Liberation Front had presented a 10-point program for an “overall solution” to the war. This proposal included an unconditional withdrawal of United States and Allied troops from Vietnam; the establishment of a coalition government and the holding of free elections; the demand that the South Vietnamese settle their own affairs “without foreign interference”; and the eventual reunification of North and South Vietnam.

In a speech to the American public on 14 May, President Nixon responded to the communist plan with a proposal of his own. He proposed a phased, mutual withdrawal of major portions of U.S. Allied and North Vietnamese forces from South Vietnam over a 12-month period. The remaining non-South Vietnamese forces would withdraw to enclaves and abide by a cease-fire until withdrawals were completed. Nixon also insisted that North Vietnamese forces withdraw from Cambodia and Laos at the same time and offered internationally supervised elections for South Vietnam. Nixon’s offer of a “simultaneous start on withdrawal” represented a revision of the last formal proposal offered by the Johnson administration in October 1966. In the earlier proposal, known as the “Manila formula,” the United States stated that the withdrawal of U.S. forces would be completed within six months after the North Vietnamese left South Vietnam.

In the end, Nguyen Thanh Le’s observation was on target. The communists’ proposal and Nixon’s counteroffer were very different and there was, in fact, almost no common ground. Neither side relented and nothing meaningful came from this diplomatic exchange.

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