Diplomacy: In Quest of Peace

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Egypt's Nasser, no notable supporter of the U.S. in Viet Nam, offered his good offices in the search for a settlement, and immediately ordered Egyptian diplomats to contact Hanoi. His enthusiasm stems in part, no doubt, from a desire to enhance his own image as an international statesman. But the government press went a bit beyond mere self-serving. "Scorn and skepticism in the Communist camp notwithstanding," noted the Egyptian Gazette, "no head of state would send special envoys to a dozen world capitals, as President Johnson has done, if he had no intention of suiting his actions to his words." Socialist Algeria, hand-tooled, like Hanoi, in bloody rebellion against French masters, received Soapy Williams with unusual cordiality.

Some of the sharpest gibes at Johnson's efforts came from allied nations, but most of the grumbling had to do with style. The Stuttgarter Zeitung complained about "exaggerated publicity," Le Monde called it "the noisy drive," having more "publicity value than practical bearing." More fundamental was an undertone of criticism of Washington's refusal to negotiate with the Viet Cong as a political entity.

Technical Stopover. Still, the generally excellent response to the U.S. appeal was perhaps best attested by the increasingly defensive tone of Peking and Hanoi. Red China's party paper Jenmin Jih Pao was soon wailing about "well-intentioned people" whom the U.S. campaign had led astray, asking in foot-stamping frustration: "How could the Johnson Administration fool the clear-sighted people with such tricks?" Whether Peking was referring to Hanoi, or to nonaligned nations, clearly it thought the message was getting through to someone important.

Peking also suspected that Shelepin's mission to Hanoi might have a pacifying motive. "Before taking the decision to send Shelepin," insisted Radio Peking, "the Soviet Union was undoubtedly tipped off by the U.S. about its pause in bombing." In any case Shelepin's visit could indeed help determine whether or not a "signal" ever comes from Hanoi. For the war in Viet Nam is more and more the chief ideological dueling ground of the Sino-Soviet quarrel.

That was evident in Shelepin's trip itself. Kremlin watchers think the trip was delayed by Peking, which was slow to come through with permission to fly over China. True or not, there was no doubt of Shelepin's chilly reception when his jet touched down at Peking airport en route to Hanoi for a "technical stopover." An unsmiling Finance Minister Li Hsien-nien was on hand to greet the Russian, dapper in a well-cut coat with Persian lamb collar and matching cap. The Chinese had prepared lunch, but the Russians had fore-handedly eaten on the plane, so generalities were exchanged about the weather, and the Ilyushin winged aloft a scant 50 minutes after landing.

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