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MORE THAN A MONTH has passed since Dr. Kissinger and his boss assured the world of the imminence of a negotiated settlement in Vietnam. As the negotiations drag on to satisfy Saigon's machinations, the visages of these two powerful men have acquired the form of the multi-handed Indian god of destruction. With one hand they pledge peace within weeks, and with another they increase the armaments supply of an ally which hinders their stated negotiating objective.
While it is clear that President Thieu does not want a negotiated settlement, that does not mean that he will not live with it if the U.S. applies the necessary pressure. No one ever assumed that Thieu approved of the settlement revealed by Hanoi on October 26, or that he would agree to any settlement which did not send his enemies to the firing squad post haste. That is why last week's session of secret talks in Paris, in which Dr. Kissinger raised many issues of principle at Thieu's request that the North Vietnamese predictably rebuffed, was nothing more than a wasted charade.
The most important concession which Kissinger sought was a firm guarantee on the withdrawal of North Vietnamese troops from South Vietnam. The settlement negotiated in October provided that the South Vietnamese solve the question of Vietnamese armed forces in the South hopefully within three months after a ceasefire: the method to be employed was reduction of the number of forces maintained by each party and the subsequent demobilization of troops retired from combat.
The absence of any provision for the withdrawal of the North Vietnamese troops reduces to absurdity Dr. Kissinger's assertion of October 26 that the settlement separated military from political issues. It, like all the other North Vietnamese proposals in the last three years, only separated military issues directly related to U.S. forces from a political settlement among the Vietnamese.
TWO YEARS AGO, the North Vietnamese and their allies rejected President Nixon's call for a standstill ceasefire in Indochina when he linked the ceasefire to simultaneous withdrawal of all North Vietnamese and U.S. forces from the South. North Vietnam insisted in 1970 that there could be a ceasefire among Vietnamese forces in the South only after a political Settlement. However, it subsequently became clear that the nature of the ceasefire was not in itself a problem providing that the parties reached agreement on a political settlement. In addition, Hanoi appeared to pave the way for de facto ceasefires in Laos and Cambodia while the Vietnamese reached agreement on the political future of the South.
In an interview with the Moscow weekly "New Times," of November 7. 1970, PRG Ambassador to the USSR Dang Quang Minh said that Nixon's proposals of October 11 of that year
...are aimed at forcing the Vietnamese to lay down their arms and recognize the rule of the American imperialists and their minions.
The Vietnamese people sincerely wish to settle the South Vietnamese problem peacefully, but they demand respect for their basic national rights. They are sincerely prepared to abide by any agreement on a ceasefire, but only after the sides have agreed to end the war and establish peace in Vietnam, and after they have signed appropriate agreements to this effect..."
THEREFORE, IT WAS ALREADY evident two years ago that the modalities of a ceasefire were not an issue of serious contention. It was not until October 1972 that U.S. negotiators were clearsighted enough to take advantage of North Vietnam's flexibility on the ceasefire issue by dropping their demand for a withdrawal of Hanoi's troops prior to a political settlement in the South.
While it is doubtful that the provisions in the October 1972 settlement lay the basis for a viable political solution in South Vietnam, the agreement does protect both sides against its breakdown. Thus, the U.S. will continue to supply arms to Saigon, and Hanoi will maintain most of its troops in the South which it will supply unimpeded. The U.S. has accepted the responsibility of ensuring Saigon's release of all political prisoners three months after the beginning of a ceasefire.
Under the present circumstances in Vietnam and the U.S., it is improbable that a more desirable solution than that negotiated in October will emerge. However, if President Nixon allows the October settlement to slip through his fingers. North Vietnam and its allies will accelerate the ground war. That is to say, the chances for a negotiated settlement in the South will have been dashed for another four years.
WITH THE COLLAPSE of a Vietnam settlement, Nixon and Kissinger will be hard pressed to justify their action to the Soviets and Chinese, whom Washington has manipulated in the last few years in order to force the North Vietnamese and their allies to settle at Paris. Nixon's action may also undermine the domestic positions of the Soviet and Chinese leaders, and particularly that of Chou En-lzi.
Of even more significance, however, Washington's sabotage of a Vietnam peace settlement will cast a gray cloud over the future of international detente. For in the next four years, no one of goodwill will trust Nixon enough to enter into the kind of meaningful and longlasting agreements which will secure the future well-being of mankind.
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