By Stephen Robson
SYDNEY — Nguyen Thi Madame Binh, the president of the Vietnam Union of Peace, Solidarity and Friendship Organisations, visited Australia from February 14 to 21. Also part of the delegation was Tran Minh Quoc, the assistant general secretary of the union.
They were returning home from talks in Fiji on normalisation of relations with the United States, in which Madame Binh participated as head of delegation from Vietnam's National Assembly.
Madame Binh is best known as the representative of the liberation forces of the Provisional Revolutionary Government who carried out much of the negotiations with the US during the five-year Paris peace negotiations in the late '60s and early '70s.
Australia-Vietnam Society branches in both Canberra and Sydney organised receptions, as did the Democratic Socialist Party and Resistance in Sydney.
Meetings were arranged with Foreign Minister Evans and Governor-General Hayden. Madame Binh also met number of aid organisations and the Union of Australian Women.
Madame Binh agreed to be interviewed by Green Left on her role in the historic Paris negotiations.
The US was forced into the negotiations partly by the growth of the antiwar movement but even more by the Tet offensive of 1968.
"They were quite shocked in the spring of 1968 when the liberation forces were able to launch the Tet offensive on the whole territory of South Vietnam", said Madame Binh, who at that time was a member of the Central Committee of the National Liberation Front.
"The Tet offensive drove home to the American government the fact that they could not use military means to destroy totally the liberation forces, so they had to accept negotiation."
US policy was in shambles. General Westmoreland, then commander of the US forces in Vietnam, requested another 200,000 troops. This was now politically not possible. Westmoreland was recalled, and in March Lyndon Johnson announced he would not seek a second term as president.
"In attempting to negotiate with us the United States attempted to use other means to continue the domination in South Vietnam by the intermediary of the South Vietnamese puppet government. It was called Vietnamisation of the war", explained Madame Binh.
"That is why our two basic demands at the negotiations table were: 1) the United States must withdraw all its troops from South Vietnam; 2) the United States must respect the independence and reunification of Vietnam."
The negotiations lasted from 1968 until 1973. During all that time the 9>It was a very fierce struggle between the two sides in the political, military and diplomatic fields."
The policy of Vietnamisation involved increasing reliance on the South Vietnamese puppet government for ground troops while using US air power to rain bombs on both north and south. But the liberation forces continued to make progress. During the six months from April 1972, 554 US aircraft were brought down over North Vietnam.
During early October, negotiations between the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the US began to make substantial progress. On October 22, an agreement was to be signed in Hanoi and then on October 30, the respective foreign ministers were to sign in Paris.
The US backed away. "The US still hoped to impose some new conditions ... so they carried out the 12-day bombing campaign on North Vietnam and Haiphong particularly."
The "Christmas bombing" began on December 18 with raids by massive B-52s. Thirty-four B-52s were downed, and a wave of protest reverberated around the world.
Finally, on January 27, 1973, the peace agreement was signed. Within 60 days of the signing, troops of the US and its allies were to be withdrawn. As well as recognising the independence and sovereignty of Vietnam, the agreement stipulated that the US would provide compensation.
Article 21 stated, "In pursuance of its traditional policy, the United States will contribute to healing the wounds of war and to postwar reconstruction of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and throughout Indochina."
In a letter to Pham Van Dong, then prime minister of Vietnam, US President Richard Nixon wrote on February 1, 1973:
"1.The government of the United States of America will contribute to postwar reconstruction in North Viet Nam without any political conditions.
"2. ...the US contribution will fall in the range of $3.25 billion of grants over five years. Other forms of aid will be agreed on between the two parties."
By March 29, all US troops were withdrawn, and for the first time since 1859, no foreign soldier was stationed on Vietnamese territory.
But the US had not given up its goal of destroying the revolutionary forces in the South and propping up the neo-colonialist regime in Saigon.
Madame Binh explained: "1973 to 1975 was also a period of very fierce struggle, both political and military, between liberation army and the US. So in fact, the US and Saigon governments did not implement the Paris agreement. We were forced to fight back!"
In the end the US options ran out as the liberation forces moved in for the final victory. The 55-day Ho Chi Minh campaign culminated in the liberation of Saigon on April 30, 1975.
But to this day, the US has refused to provide the aid promised in the Paris agreement, or even to normalise relations with Vietnam.