On Jan. 27, 1973, delegates from the United States, South Vietnam, North Vietnam and the Vietcong’s Provisional Revolutionary Government signed the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam, which instituted a ceasefire in the Vietnam War and called for the withdrawal of American troops.
The Paris Peace Accords
Preliminary peace talks between the United States, its ally South Vietnam and their enemy North Vietnam began in 1968 under the administration of President Lyndon Johnson. The talks were unproductive and bogged down by a debate over the shape of the negotiating table.
Talks continued after 1969 when Richard Nixon, who campaigned on a promise of “peace with honor,” succeeded Johnson. While the main talks included delegates from South Vietnam and the Provisional Revolutionary Government, a government established in South Vietnam by North Vietnamese allies, the talks that would produce the peace agreement took place secretly between U.S. National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese leader Le Duc Tho.
There was little progress in the peace negotiations until 1972. Nixon, facing an election, made getting out of Vietnam a priority. North Vietnam was also eager to make peace as it saw its two major communist allies, China and the Soviet Union, improve their relations with the U.S.
Kissinger and Tho reached a breakthrough in October 1972. Each agreed to significant concessions: Kissinger agreed to allow North Vietnamese troops to remain in South Vietnam, while Tho agreed to let South Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu to remain in power.
Thieu, knowing that allowing an estimated 150,000 North Vietnamese troops to remained stationed in South Vietnam while a half-million U.S. troops left would mean near-certain doom for his country, protested the terms of the agreement, causing the peace talks to break off. Nixon promised him a large increase in military funding and told him that the U.S. would re-enter Vietnam in the North renewed the conflict. Nixon also threatened to withdraw all support if Thieu refused the deal, forcing Thieu to relent.
The peace talks were renewed Jan. 8, 1973, not long after the U.S. launched a massive 12-day bombing attack of North Vietnam around Christmas that was intended to display its loyalty to South Vietnam and drive to North Vietnamese to pursue peace. On Jan. 23, Kissinger and Tho agreed to a deal that would be officially signed four days later.
The deal, called the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam, called for a ceasefire that would allow for the U.S. to withdraw its troops in 60 days. All U.S. prisoners of war would be returned home by North Vietnam. The agreement also called for there to be future negotiations between the South Vietnamese government and the PRG that would lead to “genuinely free and democratic general elections” in South Vietnam.
Later in the year, Kissinger and Tho were awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize; Tho refused the prize because he believed that peace had not been achieved.
Read the full text of the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam.
The Resumption and End of the War
The Paris Peace Accords ended America’s direct involvement in the Vietnam War, but it did nothing to end the conflict between North and South Vietnam, which resumed fighting later in the year. President Thieu declared the accords no longer in effect in January 1974.
North Vietnam forces advanced south and by the spring of 1975 were nearing the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon. Thieu asked Nixon’s successor for more funding, but was turned down. On April 21, he resigned and gave a speech accusing the U.S. of betraying South Vietnam and Kissinger of forcing him to sign a treaty that brought about his defeat. North Vietnamese troops overran Saigon on April 30, forcing South Vietnam to surrender and bring about an end to the war.
Historical Context: Vietnam War
The Vietnam War would claim over 50,000 American and millions of Vietnamese lives. The conflict was mainly fought between the American military and guerillas aided by North Vietnam. The war continued until 1975, when U.S. forces withdrew and South Vietnam fell to the communist North Vietnamese.