From the outset our constant primary goal has been a negotiated end to the war for all participants. We would take no satisfaction in the fact that after U.S. involvement and casualties were ended, Vietnamese continued to fight Vietnamese.
However, it takes two sides to negotiate, and Hanoi's attitude has been consistently intransigent. No progress has been made despite the advancement in 1970 of the two elements which might make the North Vietnamese consider negotiations to be in their interest:
- The creation of conditions which gives them incentive to turn to negotiations rather than protracted war-the tremendous drain on their manpower and resources, the growing strength of the South Vietnamese military forces and political system, and the continuing support of the American people for our Indochina policy.
- The elaboration of our various proposals which are designed to make clear to the other side that they will have a fair chance for poiitical power to the extent desired by popular will.
Since 1968 the U.S. has done almost everything that various parties -including Hanoi-told us would kindle negotiations. We halted the bombing and other acts of force against North Vietnam. We agreed to NLF participation in the Paris talks. We agreed to the principle of withdrawal and made initial withdrawals of American troops. We made substantial withdrawals, soon to total 265,000. We agreed in principle to remove all our troops. We took a series of de-escalatory steps, such as cutting back our B-52 and tactical air sorties. And we appointed a new senior negotiator in Paris.
These steps, except for the bombing halt, were unilateral measures, designed not only to reduce our involvement, but also to open the door to negotiations. tech of them was urged by the other side as a constructive contribution. None of them has generated movement by the other side.
In an effort to make progress in Paris, we have offered broad proposals for a negotiated solution to the war. On May 14, 1969, I proposed a plan which would remove all outside forces from South Vietnam and allow the people freely to decide their political future through internationally supervised elections. On July 11, 1969, President Thieu invited the other side to participate in the political life of South Vietnam.
These proposals laid out the framework for what we believed would be a resolution of the conflict equitable to all parties. We recognized, however, that a political settlement was the heart of the matter; it is what the fighting has been all about. And we knew that the other side suspected the electoral process and doubted that it would have a fair chance at political power.
We thus moved to define more precisely the political solution we envisaged. On April 20, 1970, I set forth the principles that we think should govern a fair political settlement in South Vietnam:
A political solution must reflect the will of the South Vietnamese people and allow them to determine their future without outside interference.
A fair political solution should reflect the existing relationships of political forces within South Vietnam.
We will abide by the outcome of the political process agreed upon. Having defined our principles on the central political process issue, we looked for a comprehensive approach that might provide both the structure and stimulus for genuine negotiations. During the Cambodian operations I ordered a thorough review within the government of all possible initiatives that might engage the other side in meaningful dialogue. after summer-long studies and meetings, on October 7, 1970, I presented a broad five-point peace plan with the concurrence of the governments of South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia:
An internationally supervised ceasefire in place throughout Indochina,
governed by principles which would make it acceptable and credible to both sides.
This was designed to stop the fighting at once and hopefully create new conditions and avenues for a negotiated settlement.
A Indochina Peace Conference.
This reflected the facts that North Vietnamese forces were in Laos and Cambodia as well as Vietnam and that a stable peace in one required a stable peace in all.
The withdrawal of all American forces from South Vietnam on a timetable to be negotiated
as part of an overall settlement
This was to make clar that we were prepared to remove all American troops.
A political settlement in South Vietnam bases on the political principles I had stated on
This was to reaffirm to the other side our willingness to search for a political process that would meet their concerns.
The immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners or war, journalists and other innocent civilian
victims held by both sides
This was to underline our view that the prisoner issue was strictly humanitarian and need not await resolution of other problems.
Months of analytical work had laid the groundwork for the cease- fire proposal. We projected for a year into the future the possible developments on the ground under different cease-fire conditions. We deliberately recognized the other side's essential conditions. And we rejected cease-fire proposals that looked more advantageous for our side in security terms in order to place the greatest possible emphasis on negotiability.
In making our formal proposals, and throughout the last two years we have emphasized, both privately and publicly, that we and the Republic of Vietnam would be flexible and generous once serious negotiations were under way.
The other side's constant response has been to demand that we unconditionally withdraw all U.S. forces and replace the leaders of the Republic of Vietnam with a coalition government. Their position is unacceptable to us on several counts.
First, the substance of their demands. They say nothing about what they will do about North Vietnamese forces, when we believe the South Vietnamese should be free of all outside intervention. They ask us to impose a future on South Vietnam, when we believe the people should choose that future.
Secondly, their view of the negotiating process. The Communists pose their demands as preconditions to negotiations. If we were to pay this price there would be nothing left to negotiate.
Thirdly, the incompatibility of their demands. Even if we were to agree to their first demand and pull out unilaterally, we would have absolutely no incentive to agree to their second demand of assuring their political victory in South Vietnam. This would be their problem, not ours. It would be up to them to compete with the growing strength of the South Vietnamese.
Lastly, the Communist definition of a coalition government. Their definition makes a mockery of the concept itself. They prescribe that one-third of the coalition government would be from the NLF, one- third from those people in the "Saigon administration" who stand for peace, independence and neutrality," and one-third from other forces who also stand for these principles.
Since the Communists reserve the right to define the principles of peace, independence and neutrality" and to decide which people support these principles, their proposal for a coalition government boils down to a demand that they nominate one-third of the government without restrictions and have a veto power over the other two- thirds. It is a formula for a guaranteed political takeover.
Thus, the issue is not, as some would have it, a question of a few personalities in the Saigon government standing in the way of a peaceful solution. The Communists seek not only the removal of the elected leaders of the present government but the disruption of all organized non-Communist forces.
The fundamental question in the negotiations, in short, is the means of allocating political power in South Vietnam. The other side wants negotiate in Paris an allotment of power that would assure their dominance. Our proposals call for a fair competitive process that could consult the will of the South Vietnamese people and reflect the existing relationship of political forces.
We recognize that finding an appropriate and equitable means of expressing South Vietnamese political will is a complex task. There is little guidance to be drawn from Vietnamese history. Nevertheless, if our adversaries ever make a political decision to negotiate seriously, believe we could find a way to reach a solution fair for all parties. We know that after we leave, the other side will still be there. We know that for a settlement to endure all parties must want it to endure.
We remain prepared to make a major effort in the shaping of such a settlement.