795.00/4–2653: Telegram

The Ambassador in Korea (Briggs) to the Department of State


1271. Department pass Tokyo; repeated information niact Tokyo 357 for Ambassador Murphy (pass General Clark). Re Deptel 669, April 24, 1953.1

President’s letter delivered to President Rhee at his residence in Seoul today. Rhee apparently unmoved by President’s communication and gave no indication of willingness dispassionately to discuss (far less recede from) his previously stated anti-armistice position. In fact yesterday Rhee made further public statement, released in Seoul today (Embtel 1267, April 26)2 reiterating his opposition to any armistice that fails expel Chinese Communists, and declaring his intention to fight on, alone if necessary.

At outset of meeting I recalled to President Rhee our talks April 14 and 17, and delivery latter date President’s interim message. Rhee then read President’s April 23 letter3 aloud, slowly and without change of expression. After pause, Rhee said: “Please convey expression my sincere thanks for attention being given by President Eisenhower and Secretary Dulles to problems of Korea”. Rhee then immediately went into his “victory or death” act which remained theme song of meeting lasting for nearly two hours. Efforts pin down Rhee evoked petulant responses. For example he repeatedly declared “Chinese Communists must withdraw or peace is no peace”. I said everyone agreed with that, but said that implementation involved timing, whereas Rhee said, Chinese [Page 939] must withdraw “now”. When I asked whether “now” meant today or tomorrow or next week or one month hence or now as element in armistice talks, Rhee declared details were irrelevant, and that anyway he would soon write personally to President Eisenhower.

Points in President Eisenhower’s letter to which I infer Rhee takes exception are:

Proposition that something has been accomplished by repelling armed Communist attack, so long as Chinese Communists remain in North Korea.

References in third numbered paragraph to US and UN being uncommitted to unification, if unification should mean war.

View that there is anything to discuss (fourth numbered paragraph of letter) except withdrawal of Communists.

It may also be remarked that whereas at previous recent talks, Rhee has made important point of consultation between United Nations Command and his government (which he alleges has not previously taken place), now that President has assured Rhee that consultation will occur (as set forth in antepenultimate paragraph) Rhee tries to belittle usefulness of such consultation, declaring “after all consultation is merely procedural matters; what counts is withdrawal Chinese Communists”.

Penultimate paragraph President Eisenhower’s letter dealing with possible consequences evoked remarks from Rhee along line Ambassador Yang’s aide-mémoire (Deptel 673)4 which was not otherwise discussed. (There seemed no point suggesting withdrawal Ambassador Yang’s aide-mémoire since on arrival Seoul this morning I learned that Yang had repeated to press outside Department substance of statements made to Assistant Secretary Robertson inside Department.)

After approximately one hour of this unprofitable jockeying I told President Rhee as solemnly as possible that if my estimate of position is accurate he may be facing—not next week or next month, but tomorrow—decision critical in terms future history Korea; Rhee may already bestride fork in Korean road, from which no turning back possible and no second guesses allowed. I therefore urged Rhee in all earnestness to consider views of Korea’s friends and allies, and to take into consideration their possibilities and capabilities of acting on Korea’s behalf. I warned Rhee of limitations put by public opinion in respective countries on their range of action, having in mind that free world responds to public opinion but rejects being slave to public propaganda.

[Page 940]

Our interview closed on personally amicable basis, with references by President Rhee to regret for intemperate remarks, followed by statement that “most helpful thing” President Eisenhower could do would be to issue statement that if Communists genuinely desire peace, Chinese forces now in Korea should immediately withdraw north of Yalu River.

Thus there was little to be derived from lengthy session with ROK President to indicate Rhee’s determination was affected by President’s letter. Today’s developments have still further reduced Rhee’s “area of maneuverability”. Notwithstanding President Eisenhower’s letter, Rhee is today closer than before to open, destructive opposition to any armistice terms that fail to include withdrawal of Chinese Communists. Furthermore Rhee is leaving himself narrower and narrower avenue of retreat, should he after having exhausted final efforts to persuade American Government to rewrite armistice terms in desired direction, decide accept modified position more nearly consonant President’s letter.

Without ruling out possibility that in final showdown Rhee may not still take more realistic and practical position, today’s developments have considerably diminished chances favoring that outcome.

  1. Not found in Department of State files.
  2. Not printed. (795.00/4–2653)
  3. Ante, p. 929.
  4. In this telegram to Pusan, dated Apr. 24, 1953, not printed, the Department furnished Briggs with a copy of the Korean aide-mémoire and a summary of the YangRobertson talk of Apr. 24. (795.00/4–2453) For a report on this discussion, see the memorandum of conversation by Robertson, Apr. 24, p. 933; the aide-mémoire is an attachment to the memorandum.