The Plot Thickens

Vietnam

EVERYONE HOPES that the Vietnam negotiations which are now at full throttle will not go awry like the U.S. "smart" bomb which brought death to employees of the French legation in Hanoi two weeks ago. Those deaths have added to the somber character of the current negotiations which have finally brought into focus the outlines of a settlements.

After an announcement of a ceasefire in Vietnam. President Nguyen Van Thieu will continue as leader of the present Saigon government until the formation of a tripartite government in which Thieu will assume leadership of one segment. One of the remaining two segments will include individuals who are neutrals and who live in Vietnam or abroad. The other group will include supporters of the National Liberation Front and the Provisional Revolutionary Government. Each segment will be free to choose the individuals it wants to participate in the provisional government, whose task will be to plan the arrangements for a permanent government and for the drafting of a new constitution.

During a brief period subsequent to the ceasefire, the U.S. will withdraw all of its remaining forces from the Vietnam area. North Vietnam and the Provisional Revolutionary Government will release all American prisoners of war during that interim. North Vietnamese troops may be withdrawn from some of the most heavily contested areas in the South, but their final withdrawal will not occur until the formation of a permanent government in the South.

WHETHER OR NOT a final agreement is reached before the November 7 elections, it is certain that a settlement would not have been possible without election year pressures. News reports from Saigon in recent days have described Thieu's extreme dissatisfaction with the terms of the negotiations. When Kissinger finally left Saigon on Monday, Thieu may have told his colleagues what former Vice President Nguyen Cao Ky told ranking members of South Vietnam's National Defense Military College on July 15, 1969.

"We always recognize the noble value of American and but we cannot accept the attitude of some U.S. statesmen who considered this aid as a power to give orders and realize their own plots. We are those who have directly participated in the war for so many years that our life or death depends on the survival of this native land."

The context of Ky's remarks was Saigon's unwillingness to participate in peace talks which were to have begun seven days after the U.S. halted its remaining bombing of North Vietnam on October 31, 1968. Ky's statement indicated that the reason for Saigon's delay in sending a delegation to those negotiations was because of the "plots" of U.S. officials and not the shape of the bargaining table. 'Conciliation with the aggressors who have a smaller and weaker force is not different from a defeat,' Ky stressed.

At the same war college on August 1, 1972, Thieu stated that the "right" solution to the war lies in "the destruction of the economic, military and political potential of the northern aggressors... Otherwise the Communists would revert to guerilla war and that could go on for years and years." Whether the revolutionary forces can achieve their objective to bring about a "statement" in the war, will depend on the way the incumbent (U.S.) President deals with the problem.

THE POLITICAL TERRAIN is no longer as favorable for Thieu as it was in those wistful days of late 1968 and early 1969. The North Vietnamese say that they have done everything humanly possible to speed the peace talks toward a settlement. The Provisional Revolutionary Government accepted on September 11, 1972 that a "solution to the internal problem of South Vietnam must proceed from the actual situation that there exist in South Vietnam two administrations, two armies and other political forces...(who) must unite on the basis of equality, mutual respect and mutual non-elimination." In early October, the North Vietnamese for the first time agreed that a ceasefire in the Vietnam area would take place before the formation of a provisional government in Saigon.

"Sweet reasonableness" has not at last prevailed in the Vietnam negotiations, however. There is still a threat that "an unpleasant military surprise" awaits Americans in Vietnam in the next few days and that the U.S. plans to bomb Hanoi with B-52's. In the wider Southeast Asian frame, the Peking Review has carried a report that the U.S. supported regime in Bangkok has recently begun dropping "chemical bombs" and "plastic bags containing the eggs of insect pests" in three northern provinces of Thailand.

On all sides of the Vietnam war there is a minority of perverse individuals who would like to keep on fighting. For everyone else, the important task now is to heal the war wounds and to rebuild their nations materially, socially and psychologically. No time limit can be set on these healing processes, for it remains to be seen if the parties will take the cure with the same enthusiasm they fought the war.