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A Peace That Couldn’t Last – Negotiating the Paris Accords on Vietnam

Signed on January 27, 1973, the Paris Peace Accords were intended to finally end the Vietnam War, which had cost the lives of thousands of American soldiers, not to mention the millions of Vietnamese civilians who were killed, injured, or displaced. Initially, the Accords were negotiated in secret by National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, the lead North Vietnamese negotiator. These secret negotiations took place over the course of five years in Paris, from 1968 to 1973, but it was only in the early 70’s that any real progress was made.

The secrecy of the negotiations, along with slow technology and the time differences between Washington, D.C., Paris, Hanoi, and Saigon, ensured that the negotiating process was time-consuming and tedious. In spite of these challenges, the two sides were, after many deadlocks and near agreements, able to come to a compromise in January 1973. For their efforts, Kissinger and Le Duc Tho were awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 1973, although Le Duc Tho refused to accept the award since he believed the U.S. and South Vietnamese were in violation of the Accords. Read more

Officially Unofficial – The Opening of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT)

On the first day of January 1979, the United States de-

recognized the Republic of China (also known as Taiwan or the ROC) as the official government of China, recognizing the People’s Republic of China (the PRC) instead. While this declaration helped to strengthen the U.S. relationship with the PRC against the Soviet Union, it created chaos in Taiwan. With the closure of the U.S. embassy in Taipei came a widespread financial crisis, the result of a mass exodus of investors from the country.

What may not have been clear was that the U.S. government, under the Carter administration, was not seeking to sever ties with the island. Although the U.S. had officially revoked its recognition of Taiwan as a legitimate political entity, significant U.S. financial and military interests remained on the island. The closing of the U.S. embassy in Taipei presented an obstacle to protecting those interests.  Thus began the search for a solution that would allow the U.S. to conduct diplomatic relations with Taiwan in an unofficial capacity.

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Day of Atonement, Day of Animosity – The 1973 Yom Kippur War

For Egypt and Syria, the 1967 Six-Day War was a bitter defeat at the hands of long-time foe Israel. They wanted to regain the Sinai and the Golan Heights while Egyptian President Anwar Sadat also wanted to reopen the Suez Canal. On October 6, 1973 they launched a surprise attack on Israeli positions in the Israeli-occupied territories on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism, which also occurred that year during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The hostilities in turn led to even greater tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, which began to rearm their allies, Israel and Egypt. Fears of a large-scale battle in the Middle East, perhaps escalating to the Cold War superpowers themselves, ultimately persuaded all involved to back away from the abyss and negotiate a peaceful resolution. Read more

From Victim of Nuremberg Laws to “Kissinger’s Kissinger”

The Nuremberg Laws were introduced by the Nazi government in Germany on September 15, 1935 to ostracize and impoverish its Jewish population. The laws prohibited marriages between Jewish and non-Jewish Germans, limited employment and revoked citizenship.  Jewish workers and managers were fired and Jewish businesses sold to non-Jewish Germans at prices far below market value. Jewish doctors were forbidden to treat non-Jews and Jewish lawyers were barred from practicing law.

By the start of the Second World War in 1939, more than half of Germany’s 437,000 Jews had emigrated to the United States, Palestine, Great Britain, and other countries. In December 1941, Hitler decreed that the Jews of Europe should be annihilated; an estimated 6 million people died in the resulting Holocaust.

Among those caught up in these winds of war was the family of Helmut Sonnenfeldt, who emigrated to the U.S. and had a long, distinguished career in foreign policy. Read more

Negotiating the End of the Yom Kippur War

Israel’s resounding victory in the Six-Day War of 1967 left the Arab states humiliated and looking to regain the swathes of territory they had lost. On October 6, 1973, Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, Egyptian and Syrian forces attacked Israeli positions in the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights, shocking Israel and the United States.

The Egyptian and Syrian militaries had performed maneuvers in the months leading up to the initial strike against Israel, but they were not seen as a threat. As fighting continued, the United States worked to arrange a ceasefire agreement acceptable to both Israel and the Arab states. Read more

Diplomacy Despite It All – Kissinger’s India Fix

Secretary of State Henry Kissinger visited India October 28, 1974 to discuss its nonalignment policy, which aimed at preserving India’s post-colonial freedom through refusal to join any coalition, including the U.S. or Soviet blocs. Relations between New Delhi and Washington were anything but cordial at this time. The 1971 refusal of Nixon and Kissinger to support India during the Bengali Genocide, combined with India’s testing of a nuclear bomb in May 1974, set the scene for a tense visit.

From denying his speechwriter access to the speechwriters’ office to demanding that his plane turn around to giving a speech he hated, Secretary Kissinger managed once again — despite everything — to score the jump-start of a diplomatic success.

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Wordsmithing in the Fires of Olympus — Writing Speeches for Henry Kissinger

Words are the tools of diplomacy. When done well, high-flung rhetoric can help define an era, such as John F.  Kennedy’s moving “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech or President Ronald Reagan’s demand to “Tear down this wall.” Poorly executed speeches, such as President Carter’s “Malaise” speech, can seriously damage reputations, no matter how well meaning. With a foreign policy doyen like Henry Kissinger, the stakes were even higher, as he viewed speeches as not just a means to enunciate existing policy, but an opportunity to create new policy.

Mark Palmer and John Kelly discuss what it was like toiling in the crucible that was Kissinger’s State Department – conducting extensive research, editing numerous drafts, and dealing with the highly demanding — and often demeaning — Dr. Kissinger himself. Read more

Jordan’s Black September, 1970

In 1972, a group of Palestinian terrorists shocked the world by kidnapping eleven Israeli athletes during the Summer Olympics in Munich. They called themselves Black September. This name has its roots in the infamous “Black September” of 1970: a month of bloody fighting in Jordan between the forces of Jordanian King Hussein bin Talal and Palestinian separatists groups such as the Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Read more

Kissinger and Lord in China:  A How-To Guide for Secret Negotiations

At the height of the Cold War, with the death toll mounting in Vietnam and the split between the USSR and China becoming more and more evident, it became clear to the Nixon Administration that ending the war in Vietnam and opening relations with China could be a two-front victory. However, because of the sensitive nature of negotiating with the United States’ ideological enemies, negotiations had to remain secret. This was particularly difficult with China, given that Washington had no established contact with Beijing.

Like something out of James Bond, Henry Kissinger (who served as National Security Advisor from 1969-1975 and Secretary of State from 1973-1977) and his Special Assistant, Winston Lord, used secret flights and body doubles to pull off the talks with both the Chinese and North Vietnamese. The talks on China were by far the more successful, as they led to President Richard Nixon’s historic trip to China in 1972, which reopened ties with the Communist country for the first time since 1949.  Read more

Watergate – Another Perspective

The Watergate affair was the most controversial political scandal to ever come out of the Oval Office and, along with Vietnam, marked a turning point in Americans’ distrust of the government. On June 17, 1972 five men were arrested as they tried to break into the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters at the Watergate complex. It was later discovered they had initially entered the DNC offices on May 28th  and wiretapped two of the phones. However, the listening devices needed to be repaired, which led to the second burglary. The men were connected to the Committee for the Re-Election of the President (CRP, but mockingly referred to as CREEP), which directly tied President Richard Nixon to the scandal. Read more