Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation, lot 66 D 199

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Director of the Office of Northeast Asian Affairs (Young)



  • Third Meeting Between President Rhee and Secretary Dulles


  • ROK
  • President Syngman Rhee
  • Prime Minister Paik
  • Foreign Minister Pyun
  • Defense Minister Sohn
  • Ambassador Ben Limb, ROK Observer to the UN
  • Minister Kim
  • United States
  • Secretary of State Dulles
  • Ambassador Lodge
  • Ambassador Briggs
  • Assistant Secretary Robertson
  • Assistant Secretary McCardle
  • Mr. Arthur Dean, Consultant
  • Mr. Kenneth T. Young, Jr., Director, NA
  • Mr. Niles Bond, Counselor, American Embassy

With respect to various plans for the future of Korea, President Rhee stated categorically that the proposal for neutralization of Korea would be absolutely unacceptable until the situation in the Far East was settled.

Turning to the question of the political conference, President Rhee said that it would be an impossible situation for Korea if the United Nations has the role of leadership in the political conference. He insisted that the United States must assume that role, with the other free nations supporting and cooperating with the United States. He also urged that there be equal voting arrangements to represent the democratic and satellite sides, respectively. He appealed to the Secretary to understand the Korean position and to insist that the “United Nations” not control the political conference. The Secretary replied that much of what President Rhee had said was sound, and hoped that the political conference would be such that the United States would be able to take the leadership and work in close cooperation with the Republic of Korea.

President Rhee felt that “we, on our side” were weak in the United Nations vis-à-vis the communists, because they have so many votes lined up on their side. India and the United Kingdom have tremendous influence in the United Nations, whereas “our position” is comparatively [Page 1482] weak. He urged that our side not get tied up like the satellites, but stand for common principles. He said the governments on our side should be encouraged to stand for these principles in order to make their position stronger.

President Rhee then asked Prime Minster Paik about his conversations with Secretary Stevens on economic matters.1 The Prime Minister replied that he had given several questions to Secretary Stevens and had requested the answers to them today. Secretary Dulles told President Rhee that there were many problems and rather long processes involved in the program of economic assistance. These questions could not be answered today, he explained, because his party had not come equipped to deal with many of the detailed matters. It would be better to leave them to Dr. Tasca and Mr. Wood. At the same time, the Secretary again assured President Rhee of agreement with his basic proposition on the unified handling of economic assistance through the Combined Economic Board. President Rhee agreed to arrange for later discussions with Dr. Tasca and Mr. Wood. He said that he was highly satisfied with the Secretary’s statements regarding coordination which, he felt, was the main problem. The Secretary said that it would also be important to bring about the coordination of the United Nations agencies in rehabilitation. President Rhee suggested that the United Nations agencies might participate jointly with the Combined Economic Board but he was afraid such an arrangement would hinder the work of the Board. Therefore, he suggested that United Nations participation should be separately handled.

Prime Minister Paik stated that one thing was clear to him, which was that the integrated program of one billion dollars should be approved in total by the Congress and its duration should be clearly specified. Secretary Dulles replied that the United States Government had approved the program in principle, but that no one now could tell exactly how much it would cost or how long it would take to implement. He said that the United States could not be bound by every specific date and figure. The National Security Council Planning Board had carefully analyzed and studied the Tasca report and the National Security Council had approved it as a sound basis on which to proceed. President Rhee suggested the desirability of clarifying whether the program would run for three years or more and asked for agreement that it be known as a three-year plan. The Prime Minister said that he wished to have a three-year integrated program mentioned in any public statement to be issued by President Rhee and Secretary Dulles. Mr. Robertson pointed out the undesirability of putting a time limit on the program, since no one can foresee how long it will take and obviously neither the Koreans nor the Americans would want to terminate [Page 1483] the program at the end of three years if it had not been completed by that time. However, President Rhee said that he definitely wanted it stated how long the program would last. Secretary Dulles suggested describing it as a three or four-year program. President Rhee agreed.

President Rhee then circulated a proposed draft joint statement2 which he suggested could be either made public or in confidence, but he desired something in writing. Mr. McCardle stated that it was necessary for a joint public statement to be made.

The Secretary then circulated a draft letter3 from him to President Rhee. After he had read the letter twice, President Rhee told the Secretary that, in reference to the relationship between Republic of Korea armed forces and the United Nations Command, he had told General Clark that there was no reason not to leave ROK armed forces under the Command, and had assured General Clark of continuing this relationship during the political conference “and even after that”. President Rhee felt that there must be just one commander of all forces in Korea. However, he said that when the United Nations Command and the Government of the Republic of Korea are not following together the same purpose, the Government of the Republic of Korea will remove its armed forces from the United Nations Command. Otherwise, President Rhee said, “as long as we travel together it is understood we will stay together in the United Nations Command”.

Then President Rhee asked the Secretary what will happen if we fail to unify Korea after 90 days of the political conference. President Rhee said that something more definite was needed, since the Korean people are vitally concerned with this question. President Rhee stressed that the aggressors are still here in Korea in great numbers. He pointed out that in the draft treaty the United States will help Korea if any outside nation attacks Korea, but in referring to the continued presence of an aggressor in Korea, he wanted to know what the United States would do to help the ROK. He again said he hoped the United States would either resume hostilities or else provide the ROK with moral and material support until it accomplishes the objective of unifying Korea. Without some such assurances, President Rhee said, he would have nothing to tell his people. On the other hand, he would be agreeing in the last paragraph of the first page of the draft letter to continue cooperation with the United Nations forces. Secretary Dulles explained that that paragraph covered the period up to the time that the United States and the Republic of Korea negotiate bilateral agreements on the stationing of United States forces in Korea. The letter meant that during this period the United States and the Republic of Korea Governments agree [Page 1484] to maintain the status quo. President Rhee indicated that would be satisfactory, but he said he needed words committing the United States now to support of the Republic of Korea after the political conference. Secretary Dulles firmly stated to President Rhee that he could not commit the United States to go to war again along with the Republic of Korea at the end of six months. No President or Secretary of State of the United States could give any such commitment, as Mr. Robertson had made clear during his mission to Seoul. The Secretary said that he was prepared to go as far as the President and the Secretary can go—President Rhee interjected the phrase “constitutionally”. The Secretary continued that there is a point beyond which neither the President nor Secretary of State could go because the Senate and the Congress of the United States would not accept it. The Secretary asked President Rhee not to imagine that he was in any way working against him or the Republic of Korea, to which President Rhee replied that he had no such thought. The Secretary pointed out that he did not wish to mislead President Rhee or the Korean people. The United States Senators were becoming quite worried about extending a commitment by the United States to the mainland of Asia. In particular, some Democratic Senators are not at all satisfied with the prospective treaty. The Secretary said that the United States would go the full limit of what it believes possible to help the Republic of Korea, but that the United States would not go beyond that point because it would defeat and ruin the whole program of support. The Secretary assured President Rhee that he had many friends in the Senate and that they would tell him the same thing. The United States could not make any commitments on the mainland of Asia beyond those we have already made with the Philippines, which has such close ties with the United States. If we tried to go beyond that, the treaty would be defeated in the Senate and that would be serving notice to the world and particularly the Communists that we are not really concerned with Korea. The Secretary again pointed out that it is the spirit of a treaty that really counts. The United States and Korea have become allies and close partners and the world knows that anyone who touches Korea touches the United States. It would only spell disaster to go beyond the present formulation.

President Rhee then explained his position at some length. He said that the Republic of Korea was struggling for survival and that there could be no real armistice or peace in Korea as long as the Chinese Communists remained in Korean territory. If they were to remain in Korea for several years, free Korea would lose its life. Therefore, the Koreans wanted to see their way clear and find where their future hope lay. With the Russians and the Chinese Communists together on one side of Korea, the United States was the only other nation to which Korea could turn for help. Furthermore, the fate of Korea was a world problem, for if Korea were lost to the Communists, other countries [Page 1485] would also follow. Therefore, he asked the Secretary for a definite commitment on future United States action. President Rhee explained that the situation in Korea was entirely different than in the Philippines, since the latter is an island nation, protected by water, whereas Korea is subject to constant threat and instant attack from overwhelming Communist forces a few miles away. If the United States can not give any such commitments, then Korea is lost. Unless the United States agrees to see to it that Korea will be unified and the Chinese Communists will be removed, President Rhee could not assure his people that they would be safe and that the unification of Korea would be guaranteed. For these reasons, he requested a statement of support from the United States following the political conference. If the United States could not make any such statement, he wanted it clearly to say so in order that the Republic of Korea would know where it stood. All of the aid and help from the United States would be useless, since South Korea was dying as a nation, although it wanted to live as a free and independent country. With the Chinese Communists in the north and North Korea under Communist control, South Korea can not continue to live unless Korea is unified. If the United States does not wish to help the Republic of Korea fight for the unification of Korea, then it should say so. The United States should help the Republic of Korea now so that it can Survive. President Rhee believed that he and his government have gone far to meet the position of the United States. Since it had postponed the problem of unification for six months, President Rhee wanted to know what he could expect from President Eisenhower and Secretary Dulles. He hoped that the United States would succeed in getting the Chinese Communists out of Korea and in unifying Korea. The armistice has been signed, leaving millions of Chinese Communists in Korea, with perhaps more to follow. President Rhee said he understood the United States desire for peace and that he and the Koreans had not complained. He recognized that the United States had rescued Korea from Communist aggression and had helped build up Korea. Now all that he asked was to let the Republic of Korea do what it could. If Korea were just divided by the Koreans alone, it would not be so difficult. However, with large enemy forces in his country, President Rhee felt that the United States could not ask the Koreans to remain silent and to keep the peace. He could not tell his people to do this or to help build up the morale of his soldiers, which was going down. They knew and heard that the Communists were celebrating a victory in Korea and that the Russians would unify Korea. However, he had no power against the Russians.

President Rhee then expressed his appreciation for the letter which President Eisenhower wrote to the effect that the United States understood the ROK situation, for that was something that President Rhee counted on. He said that he was also happy over the Secretary’s letter [Page 1486] in which he had said that the United States would take “immediate and automatic action” in Korea (President Rhee is referring to the fifth paragraph of the Secretary’s letter of July 24, 1953, to President Rhee4). However, President Rhee said he regretted that now all of this “had been taken back” and he did not know what to expect from the United States or what to tell his people.

The Secretary stated that he had confidence that the people of Korea would have confidence in the United States, and emphasized the ties between our two peoples. He recognized that the United States faced certain problems and that President Rhee faced certain problems in Korea. The task for both of them, the Secretary said, was to express our common goals. Beyond that, the Secretary felt there would be no profit in going over old ground. Instead, it would be more useful now to combine the President’s draft statement with his draft letter into a single joint statement.

President Rhee then said that the United States was one of two nations which had divided Korea at the end of the war. Whatever the intentions of the United States may have been in this action, it was thereby honor bound to help save Korea from a future Russian occupation. Accordingly, the United States Government should commit itself to something. The Secretary asked President Rhee if we should go to war for the unification of Germany, as he was suggesting we do for Korea. The Secretary stated that the United States can not undertake war as the remedy for all the injustices in the world. Otherwise, we would be in war for a hundred years or more all over the world. President Rhee countered that he wanted the United States to finish its objectives instead of leaving them half accomplished and wasting all the sacrifices that had been made. Secretary Dulles replied that it was the responsibility of the United States to decide what the American people desired. The United States could not let President Rhee or his government decide what the United States should do, nor let President Rhee or his government over-rule our judgment on what action to take, since that is an American responsibility and not Korean. We would go as far as we could, the Secretary said, but he urged President Rhee to accept our good faith and recognize our responsibility. The Secretary suggested to President Rhee that he was not expertly acquainted with opinion and developments in the United States since he had not been there for a long time. President Rhee agreed, and acknowledged the fact that the United States could not guarantee to take the action he wanted following the political conference and that such action would have to be held up pending the circumstances. President Rhee regretted that any military action of his government would be branded as aggression, particularly by India and the United Kingdom. The Secretary then emphasized [Page 1487] that he could not say he would not support Rhee at that time any more than he could say that he would support him. President Rhee complained that the whole situation was so uncertain that he did not see how he could proceed. The Secretary pointed out that it was a most uncertain world and impossible to anticipate as much as six months ahead.

President Rhee and the Secretary then took up the question of the mutual defense treaty. President Rhee circulated a new draft.5 After those present had read it, the Secretary informed President Rhee that the new fourth clause in the preamble was not advisable and had no proper place in such a treaty. Instead, it would appear in some other form, either a letter or a memorandum. In any event, the Secretary pointed out the situation covered by such a statement should lapse when the treaty would take effect, which might be next February. President Rhee agreed to put it in a joint statement or letter.

The Secretary then informed President Rhee that the addition of the word “effectively” in Article 3 of the Korean draft would have to be deleted because it was not in any other treaty of the United States. The Secretary explained that if the United States were to change the formula of Article 3 from that which appears in the other treaties, the other treaty signatories would infer that the action contemplated by the similar provision in their treaties would not be effective. Accordingly, these countries might wish to have their treaties changed and it would complicate our relations with them if this were left in the treaty with the Republic of Korea. President Rhee responded that he had asked Mr. Robertson to return to Washington to explain what he desired in a mutual defense treaty. He had presented a draft treaty to Mr. Robertson but the United States had refused to accept it. He now understood that. He agreed to delete the word “effectively” from Article 3.

Prime Minister Paik then turned to the Secretary and stated that President Eisenhower’s letter of June 66 had promised that the treaty with the Republic of Korea would be stronger than the United States defense treaty with the Philippines. The Secretary replied that no such interpretation could be put on that letter, but the Prime Minister insisted. However, President Rhee motioned to Mr. Paik to drop the matter. (When the letter was shown to Paik to find out what he was talking about, it appeared that he had misinterpreted the sentence which said that the treaty with the ROK would be “a step in the further direction” towards a comprehensive security system in the Pacific. Paik had interpreted the word “further” to mean that the treaty with the ROK would be a further strengthening and therefore different and stronger from the [Page 1488] treaty with the Philippines. Apparently, it was a perfectly genuine misconstruction of the English.)

Since Article 6 in the Korean draft provided for indefinite duration for the treaty and differed from the relevant article in the Philippine treaty, the Secretary informed President Rhee that this article must contain the same language as in the Philippine treaty. He said that the treaty with the ROK could be expected to continue indefinitely but it must have the same termination clause as in the Philippine treaty. President Rhee stated that he now knew where he stood and how far the United States would go. He explained that he did not want to appear to be like a “Chinese storekeeper”, haggling over details. He would wish to reveal to his people what the United States could do and what it could not do.

The Secretary suggested that the advisers on both sides get together on the drafting of a joint statement. The Secretary and President Rhee also agreed to meet later that afternoon.

  1. See the memorandum of conversation, supra.
  2. For a text of the joint statement as it was issued in final form, see Department of State Bulletin, Aug. 17, 1954, pp. 203–204.
  3. Not found.
  4. Ante, p. 1430.
  5. Not found.
  6. For text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953, pp. 377–380.