Nobel panel doubted Kissinger's Vietnam deal would bring peace

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STORY: In 1973, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese envoy Le Duc Tho inked their initials on a Paris peace accord meant to end the Vietnam war, which by that point had killed nearly 60,000 American soldiers and an estimated 2 million Vietnamese civilians.

For crafting that ceasefire, Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

But the cease-fire was soon ignored by both North and South Vietnamese forces. Two years later, the last Americans beat a hasty retreat from Saigon.

Now, newly disclosed records show the person who recommended Kissinger for the Nobel prize had prescient doubts over whether the Paris Peace Accords would last. The Nobel committee awarded Kissinger its most distinguished honor anyway… one of the most controversial decisions in Nobel history.

Stein Toennesson is a professor at the Peace Research Institute Oslo.

"I am even more surprised than I was at the time that the committee could come to such a bad decision. When I look at it, what surprises me even further, is that the committee was actually fully aware that the Paris agreement was unlikely to hold in South Vietnam. War was still going on and they wrote in the report and in the nomination letter that it was not sure at all that this would bring peace so the prize was given to Kissinger for having got the United States out of Vietnam, for getting the United States out of Vietnam without any peaceful solution in South Vietnam."

Nominations to the Peace Prize remain secret for 50 years. On Jan. 1, documents about the prize awarded to Kissinger and Hanoi's chief negotiator were made available on request.

Bjoern Vangen the head librarian at the Norwegian Nobel Institute.

“This year is the 50th year after the prize was given out to Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, and this means that the archives are now open so that we can access the nomination letters and also the small part of the deliberations that the Nobel Committee made for this prize."

The papers, reviewed by Reuters, reveal Kissinger and Tho were nominated two days after the signing of the peace accords.

The Norwegian academic who nominated the pair wrote, "I am aware that it is only in the time ahead that it will become clear (what kind of) significance the accords will have in practice."

After the signing, the war raged on with the North's forces rapidly advancing in the South, which was left to fight without critical U.S. support.

Fighting ended only on April 30, 1975 after North Vietnamese forces captured the South's capital Saigon, triggering a chaotic and humiliating evacuation of remaining Americans and local allies by helicopter from the U.S. Embassy rooftop.

Le Duc Tho refused the Peace Prize on the grounds peace had not yet been established. Two out of the five members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee - all now dead - resigned in protest. Kissinger, while accepting the award, did not travel to Norway for the ceremony and later tried to return the prize. The committee refused to take it back.

Tho died in 1990. Kissinger is 99 years old and still a prominent commentator on global affairs. He did not respond to a request for comment.