Nguyen Co Thach

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Nguyen Co Thach (1923-1998) was a Vietnamese revolutionary who became an urbane diplomat, although he was eventually removed, in 1991, from his post as Foreign Minister and from his seat in the Politburo. [1]

Born in Nam Dinh Province, in northern Vietnam, on March 15, 1923, he left school as a teenager and joined the anti-French forces. Becoming a Viet Minh colonel, he transferred to the diplomatic service in 1954, and, in 1956, he was named consul general in India, the start of his movement up the ranks of the Foreign Ministry.

A career diplomat, he became known to the West as an aide to Le Duc Tho during the Paris Peace Talks. He was regarded both by colleagues and opponents as an able and sometimes charming negotiator.

He had been a key post-Vietnam War negotiator with the U.S., attempting normalization in 1975. In 1980, he became Foreign Minister, but apparently lost power when the Soviet Union, which he had supported internally, collapsed, making relations with China more important

Richard Holbrooke had met with him at the Vietnamese mission to the United Nations, and, while they agreed in principle, Brzezinski continued to object. At the end of October 1978, normalization depended on conditions unacceptable to the Vietnamese, which, within months, were made moot by the Chinese invasion:

  • Calming of hostilities between Vietnam and Cambodia
  • Loosening of the alliance between the Soviets and Vietnamese
  • Stopping Chinese emigration from Vietnam. [2]

Addressing a politically sensitive issue with the U.S., he met with the leader of a U.S. POW-MIA group in 1983. He regarded the POW-MIA issue as the emotional blackmail of the U.S. government by a small but influential group, which the Republican leadership used as a means of avoiding settlement of the situation with Cambodia. When he said that it was technically impossible to account for all MIAs, the remains of some of which may have been destroyed in aircraft crashes, and that Vietnam did not the resources or expertise to do a search, the group leader, Ann Mills Griffin, offered both from the U.S. He declined, saying that until the Khmer-Vietnamese situation was resolved, Vietnam did not want to grant access to their country to the United States. He believed that the POW-MIA issue prevented normalization. [3]

In 1997, while ill, he led the Vietnamese side of a Hanoi discussion with former United States Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, to try to understand missed opportunities to settle the war.


  1. Seth Mydans (April 12, 1998), "Nguyen Co Thach, Hanoi Foreign Minister, 75", New York Times
  2. Marilyn B. Young (1991), The Vietnam Wars 1945-1990, HarperCollins, pp. 309-310
  3. Elizabeth Becker (1998), When The War Was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution, PublicAffairs, ISBN 1891620002, p. 410