HO CHI MINH CITY — Le Duc Tho, who with Henry A. Kissinger negotiated the agreement that ended U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, today urged Washington to drop all preconditions for normalizing relations with his country.
"We ourselves put no preconditions. We should simply sit down and discuss what is relevant to the process of normalization," the Vietnamese leader said at a news conference.
Speaking one day after Vietnam celebrated the 10th anniversary of the defeat of South Vietnam by communist forces, Tho lashed out at Kissinger, accusing him of "gross slanders" and "aggressive and resentful" attitudes toward Vietnam.
Tho and Kissinger, then President Richard M. Nixon's national security adviser, hammered out the 1973 Paris peace accord that allowed the United States to pull out its troops from Vietnam. Nixon called it a "peace with honor" but the agreement crumbled as communist and South Vietnamese forces continued to battle.
The war ended April 30, 1975, when a North Vietnamese blitzkrieg climaxed with the capture of this city once called Saigon. Tho is now a member of the Communist Party Politburo.
The United States and Vietnam came close to establishing diplomatic ties in 1978, but Hanoi's invasion of Cambodia late that year aborted the process. Washington insists that Vietnam pull out of Cambodia before it can consider links, and Tho said the United States has set other preconditions, including resolution of the question of Americans still missing in action in Indochina.
Although saying he is "an optimist," Tho added: "I can see no signs, no indications of normalized relations in the near future, because normalization is a two-way process.
"If the will towards normalization is coming from only one side there can be no normalization."
He said American politicians, MIA experts, scholars and journalists--including the nearly 100 here covering the anniversary--have been allowed to visit Vietnam, but the U.S. government has allowed only a trickle of Vietnamese to visit the United States.