MEMORANDUM OF CONVERSATION
DATE, TIME, PLACE: February 24, 1973, 10:10 a.m., Mr. Kissinger's Office
SUBJECT: Mr. Kissinger's Discussion with Kim Yong-sik of U.S.-ROK Relations
Foreign Minister Kim remarked that it had been more than a year since he had last met Mr. Kissinger, and many things had happened in this time. The most recent thing had been Mr. Kissinger's visit to Peking. He, Foreign Minister Kim, had read the Joint Communiqué and Mr. Kissinger's press conference, and wanted to extend his congratulations for this new step forward in U.S.-PRC relations.
Mr. Kissinger noted that we had wanted to send somebody to Seoul to brief President Park about the Peking trip, but President Park wouldn't accept this so we had no choice but to proceed without giving the ROK advance warning. The man we had wanted to send was one who had been in China, but President Park had informed us that he wouldn't be able to see him until after the Joint Communiqué was issued. Mr. Kissinger said that this was something he wanted to explain to Foreign Minister Kim.
Foreign Minister Kim indicated that he had not heard of this proposal, probably because he had been in Germany at the time that Mr. Kissinger had stopped in Peking and Tokyo. On the ROK side, he said, they were trying hard to reduce tensions and were talking to the North Koreans to this end. This had brought about a new situation in the Korean Peninsula. The talks would resume in March. The Foreign Minister indicated that while he did not know if the talks would actually succeed in reducing tensions, the ROK would keep them up. Mr. Kissinger commented at this point that the ROKs were pretty tough, and it was not so easy to have a military confrontation with them. Foreign Minister Kim reiterated that the talks would be continued, although he did not know whether this would be at the official level or not. Meanwhile, the ROKs would continue discussions with the U.S. on the level of military assistance. Mr. Kissinger stated that the ROKs could count on us to do our part.
Foreign Minister Kim turned the conversation to his experiences in Germany, noting that he had discussed the problems of Korea as a divided state with Minister without Portfolio Bahr, among others. They had agreed that it was the U.S. posture in Europe which made it possible for the Germans to talk to the Russians. The same thing was true for the ROKs, the Foreign Minister observed. Mr. Kissinger said to this that we had every intention of continuing our defense posture.
Foreign Minister Kim went on to say that the ROK foreign policy was one of peace. His country wanted to maintain peace, so therefore it wanted good relations with Communist countries. In reply to a question from Mr. Kissinger as to what countries the Foreign Minister had in mind, Foreign Minister Kim said—apparently misunderstanding the question somewhat—that the ROK as yet had not established relations with any Communist country, but had made an open statement on improving relations and establishing trade ties. The Communist attitude which they had gained here and there in contacts had not been so hostile, but it was not clear whether the Communists really wanted an improvement in relations. The ROK, though, had made its stand clear, but the task before it was not easy. If there were an improvement in the talks with the North Koreans, the ROKs could see from this how things might go. They were not so sure about the results of these talks, but would continue them.
Foreign Minister Kim asked Mr. Kissinger if he had gained any impression of what the PRC attitude might be toward the Korean situation. Mr. Kissinger stated in response that he had the impression from the talks that the Chinese were not going to exacerbate tensions there.
Foreign Minister Kim mentioned that a number of problems had to be settled first before both Koreas could be represented in the UN. UN Secretary General Waldhein had not been for two Koreas for some time. Mr. Kissinger then asked the Foreign Minister for the ROKs position on UNCURK. Foreign Minister Kim went into the background of UNCURK, noting that it had been set up after the Korean War for the purpose of facilitating the unification of Korea as the result of a UN resolution to help settle the Korean question on a permanent basis. Under the present circumstances, however, since no formula had ever been arrived at—(the Foreign Minister did not finish his statement but appeared to indicate here that UNCURK's role may have diminished). He went on to say that the organization should be kept on, at least for the sake of putting pressure on the other side.
Changing the subject, Foreign Minister Kim asked if it was Mr. Kissinger's impression that the Chinese were in favor of the continuation of the Korean talks. Mr. Kissinger said that this was, in fact, his impression. The Foreign Minister next asked if the Chinese appeared optimistic about the outcome of these talks, to which Mr. Kissinger replied that he thought they were pretty realistic, and were not looking for rapid progress. The Foreign Minister wanted to know if anything else about Korea had come out of what the Chinese had said to Mr. Kissinger. Mr. Kissinger replied that there had been nothing other than their favoring talks between the two sides. Foreign Minister Kim wondered why the Chinese had not appeared to be too optimistic. He pointed out that the North Koreans were engaging in a diplomatic offensive in Africa and in northern Europe, which he believed was costing them much more money than their people could afford. What was behind this, and what did the Chinese think? Mr. Kissinger expressed the belief that the Chinese were generally in favor of the unification of Korea, but not immediately. Confederation could come first. The subject of Korea had been mentioned very briefly, though.
Foreign Minister Kim observed that a round of talks had taken place between the two sides—there had been three meetings, but with no substantive results. Mr. Kissinger asked: Why were the ROKs against confederation? He could under stand the federation question, but confederation meant that both states would remain. In reply, Foreign Minister Kim stated that North Korea was a very aggressive regime militarily and economically, and in the light of this outside threat which it was facing the ROK had to keep its people strong internally. If they made a mistake, they had to consider not only the results of this mistake, but the question of history. What was the U.S. position? Mr. Kissinger declared that we had no position on this matter and didn't need to take one. We were in favor of what the ROKs wanted in the negotiations. He was just trying to understand the ROK reasoning.
Foreign Minister Kim emphasized that the ROKs wanted to keep in close touch with the U.S. on the talks. They were trying to do their best, and were quite successful on the economic side. They were also trying to do their best with respect to defense, and in this regard relied on the alliance with the U.S. Mr. Kissinger asserted that we intended to maintain this alliance. Foreign Minister Kim referred to U.S. troop levels in connection with the U.S. alliance, and Mr. Kissinger stated that we also intended to maintain our troop levels. They might fluctuate a few thousand one way or another, but would remain essentially the same.
Foreign Minister Kim spoke of the ROK troops coming home from Vietnam. He personally had the impression that the Vietnam cease-fire was working out satisfactorily, but what was Mr. Kissinger's impression? Mr. Kissinger agreed. Foreign Minister Kim added that he had had talks with the Vietnamese leaders who, with the exception of the Cambodian situation, also shared this opinion. What were Mr. Kissinger's thoughts (about Cambodia)? Mr. Kissinger pointed out that there were so many different opposition parties, it would be very hard to bring them all together.
Foreign Minister Kim asked if Mr. Kissinger thought that the Chinese and the Soviets were less aggressive than before. Mr. Kissinger commented that he would say they were more restrained, but not less aggressive. The Chinese had not changed their ideology, but had internal problems. The Soviets were also quiet for the time being, but were building a big military machine.
Foreign Minister Kim asked, what should Korea do? Mr. Kissinger suggested that the Koreans should build up their own military machine, but maintain their talks with North Korea. If they could get in contact with the Communists, this would be all right. Basically, however, they had to rely on their own strength, and on their ties with the U.S.
At this point, Foreign Minister Kim thanked Mr. Kissinger for taking the time to see him and expressed his appreciation for the exchange of views.
1 Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Country Files, Far East, Box 544, Korea, Volume 6, January 1973–October 1973. Secret; Sensitive. The conversation took place in Kissinger’s office.