WASHINGTON -- The White House said today President Nixon ordered a resumption of full-scale U.S. bombing of North Vietnam. Press secretary Ronald L. Ziegler said it was aimed at countering another Communist offensive.
Ziegler told reporters, "We are not going to allow the peace talks to be used as a cover for another offensive."
Ziegler said Nixon's statement of last May 8, in which he ordered the mining of North Vietnam's harbors and increased bombing, was once again U.S. policy.
The presidential spokesman said the bombing north of the 20th Parallel -- primarily the Hanoi-Haiphong area where most of North Vietnam's population is concentrated -- had been ordered suspended in October as a move to stimulate peace efforts.
Ziegler's remarks left no doubt that the bombing resumption was aimed at pressuring Hanoi into making concessions toward a peace agreement.
"The road to a negotiated peace is wide open," Ziegler said. "We want a rapid settlement to this conflict."
Ziegler said the United States would continue working with both South Vietnam and North Vietnam in hopes of achieving a settlement, but added:
"In the meantime ... our policy is as the President stated it on May 8 and the activities (now going on over North Vietnam) are consistent with that policy and are designed to deal with an enemy buildup which could lead to another offensive in the South."
Ziegler added, "the President will continue to order any action he deems necessary by air or by sea to prevent any build-up he sees in the South."
The policy change followed by two days the assertion of presidential adviser Henry A. Kissinger that negotiations in Paris to reach a cease-fire had been stalled, and he blamed delaying tactics by Hanoi.
Said Ziegler: "Neither side can gain from prolonging the war and neither side can gain from prolonging peace talks."
In the intensive bombing from last spring to October, little of North Vietnam was barred to U.S. planes. A few months ago Pentagon officials reported that no fixed targets -- such as industrial plants, and bridges -- of military importance remained standing in North Vietnam, with the exception of electrical plants in downtown Hanoi and downtown Haiphong.
It was not known if the U.S. announcements that Hanoi and Haiphong were included in the new target list meant that electrical plants would now be attacked.
Much of the bombing in the summer and fall concentrated on keeping bridges and railroads cut and on trying to stop the movement of goods south to the battle zone.
Nixon returned to the White House by helicopter early this afternoon from Camp David, Md., where he had spent the night with his family.