For two years they've talked and talked -- mostly about talking. But, after 100 sessions?
For two years they've talked and talked -- mostly about talking. But, after 100 sessions they've agreed upon one point -- -- that they've failed to make any progress towards a settlement. The talks, of course, are the Paris-based Vietnam Peace Talks -- a frustrating confrontation of diplomats from North and Sough Vietnam and the United States. On Thursday (January 21) delegates arrived, as usual, in a fleet of whiny limousines at the conference centre in Fashionable Avenue Kleber. It was the 100th session. With diplomatic smiles they entered the building. Later, they emerged, some of them still smiling, but with no more progress to report. An anniversary had come and gone with only the same old frustration to mark its passing.
It was on January 25, 1969, that the Vietnam Peace talks opened. There was a surge of hope throughout the world that here, at last, was the solution to the conflict in South-East Asia. If people could sit round a table and talk about their differences, surely the solution would not be long in coming. So it was thought.
But with the passing of time, hope has given way to disillusionment, and frustration has become a word readily associated with the abortive and continuing saga of the Paris meetings.
It might have been realised even before the conflicting sides sat down together, that the road ahead was sure to be far from smooth. To begin with they couldn't agree on the shape of the table. Carpenters were kept guessing while size, shape and seating positions were thoroughly worked out. The answer was a simple one; make the table square. After two months' haggling, they settled for a square one.
And now the diplomats sat down in private to thrash out, it was hoped, all their differences. But as time went on, as angry and increasing bitter words were exchanged, the stalemate became obvious.
Yet every Thursday morning, there were the press, the police and the crowds watching the gleaming Citroens drive up. It had become a ritual.
At 10.20 A.M. this Thursday a car flying the United States flag glides smoothly to a halt outside the conference hall. A few minutes later comes the South Vietnamese Delegation, followed by the cars of Communist North Vietnam and the Viet Cong representatives.
One by one they deliver their passengers onto the broad pavement. The press stand by, notebooks ready, cameras turn, microphones switch on. Sometimes briskly, sometimes almost casually the delegates walk the few yards to the conference hall.
On special occasions they pause and say a few words to a yawning press. Hanoi's Xuan Thuy did so on Thursday. It wasn't a world shattering comment, and it didn't renew hopes for peace. Through a French translator he said:
Pressmen, in search of a story amongst the embers of what, two years ago, was the headline news of the world, did not exactly injure each other in their rush to telephone back the story.
While those shiny cars lined up, flags fluttering in the Paris breeze, perfectly in line, and their drivers smoked and whiled away the time, cafes and bistros nearby did their normal brisk trade, as they usually do when the talks are in session, and journalists have time it kill. Coffee and Cognac fill tables cluttered with notebooks and pencils, cameras and camera gear. Some of the newsmen are beginning to look upon their assignment as a way of life.
At the United States Embassy the routine is well established. The head of the U.S. Delegation gives a press conference after each session. Cleaners prepare the conference room, dusting and polishing. Early press arrivals don't bother them. The newsmen sit quietly in their chairs while the dusting and polishing goes on around them.
Back at Avenue Kleber the talks are over. The 100th session has come and gone with little except an anniversary figure to mark its passing. The delegates leave. The cars pull up, let them in, and drive away.
The leader of the American delegation, David Bruce, goes back to his Embassy and the waiting pressmen. Resignedly he faces them and says of the 100th meeting:
That, after two years and 100 sessions.