695A.0024/1–554: Telegram

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


620. State pass Defense; repeated information niact Tokyo 369 (pass CINCUNC), New Delhi 44. Tokyo for General Hull. ReEmbtels 6141 and 617.2

General Taylor and I spent nearly two hours with President Rhee and Foreign Minister Pyun this afternoon following receipt of Pyun’s note in which he notified UNC that ROK “will move armed police into demilitarized area by noon January 6 to halt illegal screening of anti-Communist prisoners by Indian custodial troops”. Atmosphere of meeting was tense, with Rhee at times almost hysterical, with Pyun whenever Rhee showed signs of adopting more rational attitude again inflaming President by references to Indian “coercion, brutality and torture” in connection with what President repeatedly described as “134 [Page 1693] anti-Communist prisoners sent to their death by pro-Communist Indian forces”.

Taylor called attention to his letter of this date (delivered noon today approximately three hours before arrival of Pyun’s “ultimatum” although President said ROK note prepared prior receipt Taylor’s letter) and explained that proposal set forth therein—(namely replacement by ROK personnel of limited equal number UNC American personnel to enter demilitarized zone, but not prisoners’ compound, and observe from boundary prisoners’ compound roll call procedures undertaken by Indians) was the only suggestion within armistice terms which UNC could make.

Rhee made several proposals which all boiled down to having unarmed ROK observers present at verification process and within compounds to observe what Indians were doing. He first insisted on having such observers armed but finally seemed to accept unarmed observers. Under such conditions he appeared not to oppose verification and screening. Taylor pointed out that ROK suggestion probably either beyond terms of reference or would require Indian permission which probably could not be obtained. Rhee reiterated demand that his request be considered “in highest quarters”.

During meeting Taylor and I pointed out to Rhee as earnestly as we could both deplorable effects from point of view of welfare Korea (including attitude toward Korean matters of US Congress at forthcoming session) and also the world-wide harm to Korea’s interests resulting from present situation in which Communist and ROK are found on same side and against UNC. This apparently new idea to Rhee who somewhat shaken. However, under prodding from Pyun he quickly resumed intemperate attack on Indians as root all demilitarized zone evil.

Taylor warned Rhee that if the armed intervention apparently contemplated by Pyun were carried out it might well lead to violence between troops of Eighth Army and the violators of the armistice.

We emphasized to Rhee serious nature of language of first paragraph of Pyun’s note which amounted to threat to violate armistice by armed force. He showed considerable dismay and asked hopefully whether letter had been sent to Washington. On being told it had he said that though it might be a mistake he would accept consequences.

Meeting ended by counsel on our part that Rhee seriously consider direction in which his present policy is leading and by suggestion we discuss matter after further consideration. As we prepared depart, Rhee sought describe Pyun’s note as “merely suggestion” and nothing US Government ought to take “so seriously”. This however was followed by statement “we must protect our anti-Communist prisoners”.

Recommendations: That we stand pat. Rhee has no intention of using force against UNC troops. For moment feel we should not show too much concern with Rhee’s demands and adhere generally to offer made [Page 1694] in Taylor’s letter. Meanwhile we should encourage Thimayya to go ahead as rapidly as possible with Swiss and Swedes present. (General Bryan3 today given to understand roll call procedure to be resumed by Indians January 7.) To show nervousness in face of Pyun’s “ultimatum” would in our estimation create impression of feebleness and indecision on Rhee. Requests to Rhee to produce evidence or proof of pressure by Indians were rejected by statement “I know what I know.” This, without support other than Pyun’s activity, is altogether unconvincing.

Understand Hull is sending Taylor instructions tomorrow which we will await before resuming discussion with Rhee.4

  1. Dated Jan. 3, not printed. In it, Ambassador Briggs said that Taylor had drafted a letter to Rhee, to be sent on approval by General Hull, offering to replace a limited number of U.S. Marine guards with an equal number of ROK guards in the demilitarized zone who could observe from outside the compounds the roll call procedures which were to be resumed on Jan. 4. General Taylor indicated that it would not be practicable to have ROK observers attend the proceedings of the NNRC while cases of individual North Koreans or Chinese seeking repatriation were being considered. (695A.0024/1–354)
  2. Dated Jan. 4, not printed. It conveyed the text of Pyun’s letter to General Hull, the substance of which is given in this telegram. (695A.0024/1–454)
  3. Maj. Gen. Blackshear M. Bryan, USA, Commanding General, I U.S. Corps.
  4. In telegram 1047, Jan. 5, from New Delhi, Ambassador Allen observed that resolute action by the UNC was needed to maintain the demilitarized zone and said that he had no doubt that the UNC would take the necessary steps to prevent ROK police or other forces from violating the zone. He stated that ROK interference could only provoke a serious clash with the Indian forces in the demilitarized zone. (795.00/1–554)

    In telegram 624, Jan. 5, from Seoul, Ambassador Briggs informed the Department of State that his conversations with Ambassador Wang of the Republic of China in Seoul led him to believe that the developments surrounding the Pyun letter were strictly attributable to Rhee and Pyun and were not the product of any collusion between the Chinese Nationalists and the Republic of Korea. (695A.0024/1–554)