Le Duc Tho

Born in 1910 in Nam Ha Province in Tonkin, Le Duc Tho was North Vietnam's principal negotiator at the Paris peace talks. The son of a French functionary in the Vietnamese colonial government, Le was educated in French schools before joining the revolution. He spent years in jail and hiding because of his revolutionary activities and helped found both the Indochinese Communist party (Lao Dong party) and the Vietminh. During the French Indochina War, he was chief commissar for southern Vietnam and maintained key responsibility for the region after U.S. intervention ended.

The Paris peace talks formally began on May 13, 1968, and deadlocked immediately. Le insisted that U.S. bombing of North Vietnam must stop before anything else could be negotiated. While his stance was resolute, Le apparently had considerable discretion in how to pursue negotiations until Ho Chi Minh's death in September 1969. After that, North Vietnamese decision making became collegial and Le reported to the joint leadership. Beginning February 21, 1970, Le met secretly with Henry Kissinger for two years. Seeing the military and political struggles as part of the same overall conflict, Le maintained a negotiating position the whole time that any agreement must simultaneously resolve both issues. Moreover, any armistice must include replacement of Nguyen Van Thieu's government with a coalition which included the National Liberation Front (Vietcong).

In order to effect American withdrawal from Vietnam, Le ultimately made concessions on these points. The principal provision of the October 1972 agreement allowed Thieu to remain in power with 150,000 North Vietnamese Army troops remaining in South Vietnam. Thieu irately rejected the agreement, and all sides sought "modifications." Renewed negotiations stalled in December. They were soon back on track, however, and an agreement almost identical to the October agreement was signed in Paris on January 27, 1973. Although the cease-fire never took place, Nixon proclaimed "peace with honor." The settlement in reality provided only a face-saving "decent interval" before the Vietnamese finally settled the issue among themselves. With the agreements being outright violated by all parties, Le Duc Tho and Henry Kissinger attempted in June 1973 to effect better observance of them, but there were no substantive results. Both men were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but Le Duc Tho refused to accept, contending it would be inappropriate until there was legitimate peace in Vietnam. In 1975, Le Duc Tho returned to South Vietnam to oversee the final attack on Saigon. Between 1975 and 1986, he served on the politburo in Hanoi and as the Lao Dong party's chief theoretician, but he resigned his post in December 1986 because of ongoing economic troubles in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.