Moscow and the Vietnam Peace Talks

From the Cold War International History Project


The following documents confirm Western analyses of the Soviet Union’s role in negotiations to end the Vietnam War. From June to December 1966, Januscz Lewandowski, the Polish representative to the International Control Commission, launched a diplomatic initiative called “Marigold.” Lewandowski served as an intermediary between North Vietnam (Democratic Republic of Vietnam, or DRV) and U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge in an attempt to discover terms that might provide a basis for negotiations. Although the initiative broke down in December when the United States resumed its bombings of the North, the Poles claimed to have extracted a commitment from the DRV to bilateral negotiations with the United States. According to George C. Herring, the Soviet Union supported, and perhaps even directed, the Polish initiative. [Herring, ed., The Secret Diplomacy of the Vietnam War: The Negotiating Volumes of the Pentagon Papers (Austin: The University of Texas Press, 1983), 227.] Colonel Fitzgerald’s reported claim therefore that the USSR “is to blame for the fact that the war drags on” is overstated and inaccurate.

The Soviets had refused to serve as an active mediator of negotiations on several occasions. But, as the Zorin document indicates, the Soviets played a key role in secret deliberations. Zorin, the USSR ambassador to France, summarizes a meeting he had in Paris in February 1969 with representatives of the DRV and National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (NLFSV). His conversation confirms the Viets’ commitment to their respective Four and Five Point plans for peace. What is new and exciting about Zorin’s memorandum, however, is the Viet position that “the time for discussion of military questions,” with the United States, “hadn’t come yet.” Shortly after the Tet Offensive of 1968, the negotiations in Paris opened with the DRV and NLFSV adopting the strategy of vua danh, vua dam [fighting while negotiating]. Zorin’s note tells us much about the Communist side’s military strength in early 1969.

Through these investigations in the Soviet archives, a complicated and ill-balanced history may be made clearer and fuller. If only to confirm the previous work of Western scholars, the Soviet documents are important. Perhaps, further research will reveal some new insights into the Second Indochina War. Introduction by Robert K. Brigham, History Dept., University of Kentucky; translations by Mark H. Doctoroff, Harriman Institute, Columbia University.

* * * * *

SecretCopy No. 1CC CPSU

(For the [General] department CC CPSU )

Colonel Ch.G. Fitzgerald, the military attache at the USA Embassy in the USSR, has lately, in his talks with the officers of the Foreign Affairs department of the Ministry of Defense, been methodically and insistently maintaining the idea of the important role the USSR could play in settling the Vietnam conflict, as the initiator and an active mediator of negotiations.

In this respect he considers that the USSR “is to blame” for the fact that the war drags on and on: “When two forces meet head on—in this case the U.S. and the Vietnamese communists—a third force is needed, which could help them come to an agreement. Only the Soviet Union could be this third power.”

In his speculations about the ways the Vietnamese conflict could be settled, Colonel Ch. Fitzgerald made the following points:

— Peace in Vietnam can be achieved through negotiations, between the USA, North Vietnam, the Vietcong, and the government of South Vietnam. The main obstacle to organizing the negotiations is the government of North Vietnam, though in the present situation negotiations would be most beneficial to North Vietnam. At the same time we understand that the war in Vietnam is profitable for the USSR, because it attracts the attention of the Chinese, otherwise you would have had a lot of trouble and unpleasantries with them on frontier questions and other issues.

— The main goal of the USA in the situation as it has developed is to maintain its prestige — to leave Vietnam “beautifully” [krasivo]. That’s why the American government is persistently looking for ways to organize the negotiations. This was the mission of the senator Mike Mansfield when he came to the USSR, but unfortunately he failed to find understanding from the Soviet representatives. Not long ago the President appointed A. Harriman as his special assistant, with his task being to find paths to negotiations. He has been appointed to use every tiniest possibility to achieve this goal.

— The President’s declaration during his press conference in Texas after his meeting with the Commander [of] American troops [Gen. William] Westmoreland, that the American people must know that there will be no quick victory, is just an assertion of his former position. This is not new for us, we are used to it.

Colonel Ch. Fitzgerald expresses his personal attitude to the American aggression in Vietnam evasively: “I’m a soldier and am therefore obliged to maintain the policy of my government and follow the directions of my command, but as a man I may sometimes be ashamed for the undermined prestige of the USA.”

(signed) P. Ivashutin“23” August 1966

No. 46722

(Source: SCCD, F. 5, Op. 58, D. 262, LI. 237-38.)


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