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Janusz Lewandowski, 82; envoy led peace effort in Vietnam

NEW YORK — The Vietnam War was raging with no end in sight in June 1966 when President Lyndon B. Johnson was told of a bold diplomatic peace offensive in the works called Operation Marigold. In comments caught on tape in the Oval Office, he called it “the most realistic, the most convincing, the most persuasive peace feeler I’ve had since I’ve been president.”

The point man behind the effort was 35-year-old Polish diplomat Janusz Lewandowski, who died Aug. 13 in Warsaw at 82. In the mid-1960s, Mr. Lewandowski was sent to Vietnam with a green light to explore ways to negotiate peace.

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He arrived in Saigon on April 10, 1966. Officially he was there as the communist world’s representative on the International Control Commission — India and Canada were its other members. The commission was set up to monitor cease-fire violations after Vietnam was divided into northern and southern entities with the defeat of French colonialists in 1954.

But his real business was in Hanoi, the Communist-held capital in the north. Nine days later, Mr. Lewandowski flew there on a rickety Boeing 307 Stratoliner, carrying Moscow’s blessing. Leonid Brezhnev had signed off on the mission after conferring with the Polish foreign minister, Adam Rapacki; Brezhnev viewed Moscow’s involvement in the conflict, providing arms and aid to Hanoi, as an increasing distraction.

At first, North Vietnamese officials asserted the standard line that they were winning the war and would not compromise with their South Vietnamese adversaries or South Vietnam’s American backers. Then Mr. Lewandowski had a frank talk with Pham Van Dong, North Vietnam’s prime minister, and was startled to hear him say the Americans would be easier to defeat than the French.

Officials in Hanoi became receptive, confiding that they might consider negotiations.

Unexpectedly, South Vietnam’s foreign minister took him to meet with the country’s president, Nguyen Van Thieu.

But bombings went ahead, killing civilians in Hanoi. Mr. Lewandowski’s peace effort was dead. He left Vietnam in May 1967.

He was later appointed to Polish ambassadorships in Egypt and Greece.

He retired in 1991.

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