Johnson, as chief executive, decided to make a dramatic gesture for peace. He declared that he was “taking the first step to de-escalate the conflict” by stopping the bombing of North Vietnam (besides the areas that were near the DMZ). The U.S. was also ready to send representatives to any forum to seek a negotiated end to the war.
Three days later, Hanoi declared that it was ready to communicate with the Americans. Discussions started in Paris on May 13 but led nowhere. Hanoi required that, before serious negotiations could begin, the United States would have to stop its bombing of the rest of Vietnam. Meantime, fighting continued at a high intensity. Meanwhile, Westmoreland directed his commanders to “keep maximum pressure” on the communist forces.
By the time South Vietnam joined the negotiations, Richard M. Nixon had been elected President.
Nixon intended to achieve the end of the war only by an “honorable” settlement that would allow South Vietnam a reasonable chance of survival. The plan was to bring pressure to bear from the Soviets and China, who were interested in improving relations with the United States, and through the massive force against the North Vietnam threat.
When the communists started another wave of attacks in South Vietnam, Nixon privately commanded the bombing to proceed. Cambodian premier Norodom Sihanouk approved the attacks, and Hanoi was in no position to complain without revealing its violation of Cambodia’s neutrality. Given the surprisingly good performance of the South Vietnamese army at Tet, the Nixon administration determined to stimulate a program to provide South Vietnam with high-quality weapons and training.
The United States Negotiates A Withdrawal
The Americans offered a mutual withdrawal of both North Vietnamese and U.S. forces. Hanoi required an unconditional U.S. withdrawal and the replacement of the U.S.-backed administration of Nguyen Van Thieu by a neutral alliance government.
Nixon could not resist the opportunity to intervene in Cambodia, where a pro-Western government under Gen. Since that time, the new system had tried to force the communists out of their border shelters. The North Vietnamese easily resisted off the attacks of the Cambodian army and started to arm and helped the Cambodian communist movement, named the Khmer Rouge. Nixon authorized a vast sweep into the border areas by the U.S. and South Vietnamese force of 20,000 men.
Vietnamization seemed to be proceeding smoothly, and American counterinsurgency specialists had moved swiftly after Tet to aid the South Vietnamese government to develop plans to root out the Viet Cong’s underground government and set control of the countryside. The Viet Cong, severely weakened by defeats in the 1968–69 offensives, now appeared on the defensive in many areas. In the U.S., large-scale demonstrations became less common, but disillusionment with the war was more popular than ever. In 1973 the draft was eventually abolished in favor of an all-volunteer army. Inspired by success in Laos, the Hanoi leadership decided to launch an all-out invasion of the South on March 30, 1972, supported by artillery and spearheaded by tanks. South Vietnamese forces at first suffered defeats, but Nixon, in an operation code-named Linebacker, unleashed U.S. airpower against the North, mined Haiphong Harbour, and ordered hundreds of U.S. aircraft into operations against the invasion forces as well as their supply lines. By June, the communists’ Easter Offensive had ground to an end.
With the failure of their offensive, Hanoi heads were ready to compromise. Based on the concessions of both sides, Kissinger and North Vietnamese emissary Le Duc Tho secretly worked out a complicated peace accord in October 1972. The Saigon government, however, protested a peace agreement negotiated without its participation and demanded changes in the treaty. In November, Kissinger returned to Paris with a deal designed to satisfy Thieu. The North responded with rage and commanded B-52 bombers to attack Hanoi. This so-called Christmas bombing is considered the most intense bombing campaign of the war.
The sign of an agreement
In eight days, the North Vietnamese agreed to return to Paris to sign an agreement. The War agreement was signed by representatives of North Vietnam, South Vietnam, South Vietnamese communist forces, and the United States on January 27, 1973. Within 60 days, all U.S. bases dismantled, all U.S. forces would be withdrawn, and all prisoners of war released. The South Vietnamese would have the liberty to determine their future, and North Vietnamese troops could stay in the South without being reinforced.
The Fall Of South Vietnam
On March 29, 1973, the very last U.S. military unit left the territory of Vietnam. By that time, both communists and South Vietnamese were already engaged in the “postwar war.” The United States maintained its plan of extensive military support to Saigon, but the President’s ability to influence matters in Vietnam was being curtailed. As Nixon’s standing broke under the weight of Watergate disclosures, Congress moved to block any chance of further military action in Vietnam. The following year saw a distinct pattern of hostilities: lower levels of casualties and combat but unlimited warfare along the never-defined zones of control of the communists and South Vietnamese government. Hundreds of Vietnamese continued to lose lives each day after the fighting was supposed to have ended. By the summer of 1974, Nixon had quit in disgrace, Congress had cut economic and military support to Vietnam by 30 percent, and the Lon Nol regime in Cambodia appeared near to defeat. On April 30, the remaining part of the South Vietnamese government surrendered unconditionally, and NVA tank columns occupied Saigon without any struggle. A military government was established, and on July 2, 1976, the nation was officially united as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam with Hanoi selected as capital. Saigon later was renamed Ho Chi Minh City. The 30-year conflict for control over Vietnam was finally over.