WASHINGTON -- The United States and North Vietnam agreed today to meet in Paris late next week to start discussing conditions for possible Vietnam peace talks.
President Johnson announced at a nationally televised and broadcast news conference: "I have sent a message informing Hanoi that the day of May 10 and the site of Paris are acceptable to the United States."
The President's statement came shortly over an hour after a Hanoi Radio broadcast proposed Paris as "an appropriate venue for the formal bilateral talks." The North Vietnamese broadcast said talks should begin "on May 10 or a few days later."
Johnson told newsmen he was informed of Hanoi's willingness to meet in Paris "about one o'clock this morning.
"As all of you know, we have sought a place for these conversations in which all of the parties would receive fair and impartial treatment," Johnson said. "France is a country where all countries should expect such treatment."
The President expressed "hope that this agreement on initial contact will prove a step and can represent a mutual and a serious movement by all parties toward peace in Southeast Asia."
"I must, however, sound a cautionary note," Johnson said. "This is only the very first step, and there are many, many hazards and difficulties ahead.
"I assume that each side would present its viewpoint in these contacts.
"I have never felt that it was useful for public officials to confuse delicate negotiations by detailing personal views or suggestions, or elaborating on positions in advance."
The President promised that the United States will "continue in close consultation at all stages with our allies." He noted that all of them have representation in the French capital.
Paris is also an adequate location from the North Vietnamese point of view. Hanoi maintains a mission there, headed by a senior diplomat, Mai Van Bo, and Communist China is also represented in Paris.
North Vietnam named its minister without portfolio, veteran diplomat Xuan Thuy, as its representative for the initial talks.
U.S. officials indicated that Ambassador at Large W. Averell Harriman and special presidential adviser Cyrus Vance were prepared to leave shortly for an agreed-on meeting place with the North Vietnamese. American and North Vietnamese diplomats met in Vientiane, Laos, today and there was speculation that the arrangements to hold initial talks in Paris were completed at that time.
North Vietnam, in its announcement, thanked the French government for suggesting Paris as a site in a statement from its foreign ministry April 18. U.N. Secretary General Thant has also proposed Paris as a possible site.
The North Vietnamese government accepted President Johnson's offer to hold initial talks exactly one month ago today, but the two nations have since had considerable difficulty agreeing on a site.
The United States proposed 15 possible locations in Europe and Asia, while North Vietnam stuck doggedly to its suggestions of Warsaw and Phnom Penh.
The Hanoi Radio broadcast, today, however, said "the North Vietnam government is of the opinion that Paris, just as Phnom Penh and Warsaw, is an appropriate venue for the formal bilateral talks."
The text said in part:
" ... the North Vietnam (DRV) government is of the opinion that formal talks between Hanoi and Washington should be undertaken immediately.
"It decides to send minister Xuan Thuy as its representative to hold formal talks with a representative of the U.S. government to decide with the U.S. side the unconditional cessation by the United States of its bombing and all other acts of war against North Vietnam (DRV) and later to talk about other matters related to the two sides.
"The North Vietnam (DRV) government welcomes the fact that the French government is willing to let Paris be the site for talks between North Vietnam (DRV) and the United States, as declared by French Foreign Minister Couve de Murville on 18 April 1968.
"The North Vietnam (DRV) government is of the opinion that Paris, just as Phnom Penh and Warsaw, is an appropriate venue for the formal bilateral talks.
"These formal talks will begin on 10 May 1968 or a few days later."
Government sources here said Hanoi later appeared to soften the flat statement that "talks will begin" on May 10, adding later in the broadcast that North Vietnam would "like" to have talks start on the day.
Secretary of State Dean Rusk expressed optimism Thursday that the United States and North Vietnam would eventually agree on a site.
"We have reason to know that several third parties are working on the problem of finding a local suitable for both sides," Rusk told a congressional committee.