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Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976
Volume E–12, Documents on East and Southeast Asia, 1973–1976, Document 272


272. Memorandum of Conversation, Seoul, August 27, 1975.11. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for East Asia and the Pacific, Box 9, Korea (11). Secret; Nodis. The conversation took place in President Park’s Office. The meeting time is unrecorded. Howard Graves, Military Assistant in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, sent this memcon to Scowcroft on September 9.

MEMORANDUM OF CONVERSATION

  • PARTICIPANTS:
  • President Park Chung Hee
  • Senior Protocol Secretary, Choi Kwan-soo
  • Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger
  • Ambassador Richard L. Sneider

NUCLEAR MATTERS

Noting that he had discussed the problem with President Ford, Secretary Schlesinger said that the U.S. attached extreme importance to the NPT. This entirely underscored the wisdom of the ROK adherence to the treaty which we warmly welcomed. The ROK action avoided a very serious political problem in the U.S. where major elements attached particular importance to NPT. The Secretary stressed that the only thing that could undermine the political relationship between the U.S. and the ROK would be the Korean effort to acquire its own nuclear weapons.

The Secretary added that substantively the ROK adherence to the NPT is a sound policy. The problem is not only in the U.S., but elsewhere. We wish to preclude [text not declassified] ambitions to acquire nuclear weapons. [text not declassified] Furthermore, in the complementarity between the U.S. and ROK forces, the U.S. is best suited to provide nuclear deterrence on behalf of its allies. We can deal with nuclear threats against a central power in a way that smaller nuclear powers cannot. We can deter Soviet nuclear threats while the ROK could not and a ROK effort to develop its own nuclear weapons would end up providing the Soviets with justification for threatening the ROK with nuclear weapons. In conclusion, the Secretary offered to explain the logic to nuclear deterrence policy in the next SCM.

President Park assured the Secretary that ROK had every intention of living up to the NPT. He explained the comments reported by Bob Novak. Novak had questioned him on what the ROK would do in case the U.S. nuclear protection was removed. Park had replied that he did not think the U.S. would remove its nuclear umbrella. But Novak persisted and asked whether in such a case the ROK would give consideration to developing nuclear weapons. Park had responded that the ROK did have the capabilities to start research but had no intention to do so under the present circumstances. Park said that his comments to Novak had been misinterpreted, and there had been misunderstanding on the part of the Canadian Government during negotiations for a nuclear reactor. On the other hand if he said nothing, it would be a blow to the morale of the Korean people. He again assured the Secretary that the ROK would live up to its Treaty obligations.

Secretary Schlesinger commented that it would be best if nuclear weapons were not involved in Korea. If a weapon were used against Pyongyang perhaps 20-30,000 people would be killed. On the other hand, if the Soviets launched a nuclear attack on Seoul 3 million people would be killed since Seoul's vulnerability is far greater than Pyongyang. While the U.S. is prepared to view the Soviet nuclear threat, we would plan to be exceedingly cautious on employment of nuclear weapons due to the vulnerability of South Korea.

President Park expressed agreement with the Secretary's views. The Secretary's statements on tactical nuclear weapons had boosted Korean morale, but we should cope with a North Korean attack without the use of nuclear weapons.

[text not declassified]

U.S. COMMITMENT

Secretary Schlesinger said that President Ford is unequivocal in his support of Korea. This view goes back to 1950 when President Ford was angered by the previous withdrawal of U.S. forces. In fact, pressures to reduce the U.S. overseas deployment in Congress have weakened. There was no effort during the 1975 Congress nor is one expected in 1976. The next effort to legislate reduction of overseas deployment, he expects, would be in 1977. The secretary said he is not concerned either about such efforts. He expects President Ford to be re-elected, but if not the Democrats are not likely to eliminate U.S. support for South Korea. As an example of the change of opinion in the left of the U.S., he cited Senator Eagleton's recent statement.

One of the lessons of Vietnam is that the left now understands the illusion of U.S. withdrawal and that the Paris Peace Accords would bring peace. They now understand that if the balance of power shifts the Communists will act aggressively. This lesson is specifically relevant to Korea.

U.S. COMMANDERS

President Park asked as a special personal favor from President Ford that General Stilwell and General Hollingsworth be retained for another year in Korea. He praised their contribution to Korea's defense and urged that they not be shifted during the next year which could be critical. Secretary Schlesinger said we have no intention of moving General Stilwell until his age of retirement at sixty and took note of the President's request with respect to General Hollingsworth.

NUCLEAR REPROCESSING

The Secretary, referring to the Ambassador's approaches on this question, said acquisition of a nuclear reprocessing plant also affects the efficiency of the broader nuclear issue he had discussed previously. As a former Chairman of the AEC, he could tell President Park that the economics of Plutonium reprocessing are difficult and involve high risk. General Electric has abandoned its plant and the cost of the Barnwell Plant have gone out of sight.

In his closing remarks, Secretary Schlesinger praised the political will he had found in Korea for defense of its country. This will was needed in Vietnam and Europe, but there is no need to instill it in Koreans. It is the ultimate source of strength for the Republic of Korea.

1 Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for East Asia and the Pacific, Box 9, Korea (11). Secret; Nodis. The conversation took place in President Park’s Office. The meeting time is unrecorded. Howard Graves, Military Assistant in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, sent this memcon to Scowcroft on September 9.