On 16 September 1969, RN announced his first major withdrawal of troops from Vietnam.
After careful consideration with my senior civilian and military advisers and in full consultation with the Government of Vietnam, I have decided to reduce the authorized troop ceiling in Vietnam to 484,000 by December 15. This compares with the ceiling of 549,500 which existed when this administration took office. Under the newly authorized troop ceiling, a minimum of 60,000 troops will have been withdrawn from Vietnam by December 15.
Since coming into office, my administration has made major efforts to bring an end to the war:
–We have renounced an imposed military solution.
–We have proposed free elections organized by joint commissions under international supervision.
–We have offered the withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces over a 12-month period.
–We have declared that we would retain no military bases.
–We have offered to negotiate supervised cease-fires under international supervision to facilitate the process of mutual withdrawal.
–We have made clear that we would settle for the de facto removal of North Vietnamese forces so long as there are guarantees against their return.
–We and the Government of South Vietnam have announced that we are prepared to accept any political outcome which is arrived at through free elections.
–We are prepared to discuss the 10-point program of the other side, together with plans put forward by the other parties.
–In short, the only item which is not negotiable is the right of the people of South Vietnam to determine their own future free of outside interference. I reiterate all these proposals today.
The withdrawal of 60,000 troops is a significant step.
The time for meaningful negotiations has therefore arrived.
I realize that it is difficult to communicate across the gulf of 5 years of war. But the time has come to end this war. Let history record that at this critical moment, both sides turned their faces toward peace rather than toward conflict and war.
RN entered the White House convinced that a fair, sensible, and respectful approach to the North Vietnamese could result in a negotiated peace settlement sooner than later. During his first months in office, he confidently predicted that the war would be over by the end of the year.
But the unhappy story of those first several months involved increased infiltration down the Ho Chi Minh trail, a sharp uptick of enemy aggression, and blunt rebuffs of every attempt to begin serious negotiations. Eventually it became clear that the North Vietnamese were only interested in total victory on their terms.
RN had to adjust his strategy and tactics accordingly. The Nixon Doctrine was announced on Guam on 25 July.
On 4 August, at the Rue de Rivoli apartment of the old Vietnam hand (and erstwhile HAK student) Jean Sainteny in Paris, Henry Kissinger held his first secret meeting with the former North Vietnamese Foreign Minister Xuan Thuy. On 12 August, the Viet Cong launched a new offensive against 150 targets in South Vietnam.
Then, on 2 September, Ho Chi Minh died. This event was anticipated —he was 79— but not necessarily expected. There was some cautious hope that it might mean a different, more accommodating, attitude in Hanoi.
On 16 September, RN announced the withdrawal of 60,000 troops (which, because of technicalities involving roster strength, would actually mean 65,000 withdrawn) and reduced draft calls.
The enemy, however, remained impervious, intransigent, and (with messages to the American anti-war Moratorium on 15 October) outright insulting.
In six weeks, on 3 November, RN would go on TV and dramatically reveal the backstory of his dogged attempts —and dashed hopes— for peace in Southeast Asia.