Vietnam's war-time negotiator, Le Duc Tho, dies in Hanoi at 79

October 14, 1990|By New York Times News Service

Le Duc Tho, the chief North Vietnamese negotiator at th Paris talks that led to the 1973 Vietnam cease-fire agreement and the withdrawal of the last American troops from Vietnam, died yesterday in Hanoi at 79.

Japan's Kyodo news agency said Mr. Tho died of cancer of the throat and had been hospitalized in Vietnam since his return in April from medical treatment in Paris.

Mr. Tho, a hard-line communist, was a member of Hanoi's Communist Party Politburo from 1955 to 1986, when he resigned in a party reshuffle, having risen to be one of the three most powerful Vietnamese leaders. He still influenced Vietnamese politics afterward.

Beginning in 1969, Mr. Tho held recurrent secret negotiating sessions in Paris with Henry A. Kissinger, then national security adviser to President Richard M. Nixon. The two men initialed the armistice accord on Jan. 23, 1973 and President Nixon called it "an agreement to end the war and bring peace with honor."

Mr. Tho and Mr. Kissinger were jointly awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize for that work, though fighting between Vietnamese forces continued. Mr. Tho, the first Asian chosen for the honor, refused it, saying that "peace has not yet been established."

An expert on South Vietnam, he was later sent there from Hanoi to oversee the final, victorious communist offensive in 1975 that brought the fall of the Saigon government and the merging of North and South Vietnam into a single communist-ruled state.

Robert Shaplen, an American expert on Asia who interviewed Mr. Tho in 1984 in Hanoi, reported that he also directed an invasion of Cambodia by Vietnam in 1978.

The name Le Duc Tho (pronounced lay dook toe) is a pseudonym that Mr. Tho is said to have assumed decades earlier in his political career. An aura of ideological vehemence still clung to him at Paris. Mr. Kissinger, in "Years of Upheaval," described him as a "dour, dedicated revolutionary."

He spurred mixed feelings in Mr. Kissinger, who wrote that his adversary's "subtlety, his acumen, his iron self-discipline," were admirable, and "in all the years of negotiation with me he never lost his poise; he never made a mistake."

"As a professional Leninist he despised the bourgeois values of compromise I put forward," Mr. Kissinger observed, "and the effrontery of his deceptions inside and outside the conference room could be enraging."

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