795.00/1–654: Telegram

The Ambassador in Korea (Briggs) to the Department of State1

top secret

635. Reference: Deptel 560, January 4.2 President’s letter delivered to President Rhee at noon today. Letter produced tense, quietly venomous monologue lasting approximately thirty minutes. Foreign Minister Pyun present. During this period Rhee progressed, slowly reading letter aloud with increasingly contemptuous asides, from disappointment to [Page 1697] undisguised hostility. He concluded by rejecting, in context of second paragraph of letter, both mutual defense treaty and economic aid program as “cheap political bribes” offered to divert him from unification of Korea, and by declaring that unless US is prepared assist ROK to unify country (that is resume war at ROK side) “we shall open negotiations with Soviet Russia”.

In addition Rhee made following comments:

Concerning phrase “always acting together in mutual agreement” Rhee complained this one-sided affair to date. Succeeding sentence “Vice President satisfied you will not renew hostilities unilaterally” led to charge US has been acting unilaterally throughout, whereas Rhee’s reiterated warnings that Korea cannot be unified except by force have fallen on deaf American ears. Furthermore Rhee said he tired of our constantly throwing this phrase in his face. He went on to declare better for Korea to be “united under Communist slavery” than left divided. This led series further charges to effect armistice has benefited only US but is strangling Korea, while Rhee’s fellow citizens in north are being tortured and slaughtered (sic). Next sentence, referring to President’s request to Congress for action on Korea’s behalf evoked reference to bribery mentioned above. As to “unification by peaceful means” (penultimate paragraph) Rhee reiterated his conviction unification impossible except by fighting, or capitulation to Soviet terms; any further attempt at negotiation he characterized as “childish”.

Rhee’s reception of President Eisenhower’s letter should be considered in conjunction with developments here during past week.

Rhee obviously suffering from all the resentment, bile and repression generated since December 31 over POW issue and some part of foregoing can be interpreted as blowing off steam, following his retreat before resolute stand of Generals Hull and Taylor against Pyun’s threat to march ROK forces into demilitarized zone. However, believe Rhee’s attitude should also be interpreted in much broader context as something which has been developing ever since armistice negotiations resumed last April. These developments have included our experiences with him during May, June and July over his conviction armistice would fail promote unification; Rhee’s success (from his point of view) in unilaterally releasing POW’s last June; reports of growing post-armistice Communist strength in North Korea (“for every 100 soldiers it would have cost last July to unify Korea,” Rhee declared bitterly, “it will cost 1,000 soldiers now”); recent Red China-North Korea pact; Rhee’s altercations with Economic Coordinator Wood over aid program and his persistently held erroneous notion US seeking dictate; his equally erroneous belief US favoring Japan at expense ROK; November–December Panmunjom negotiations which strengthened still further Rhee’s conviction no peaceful unification possible; and announcement impending withdrawal of two US divisions from Korea.

[Page 1698]

There is also problem of Rhee’s advancing age; of his blind, intense and narrow nationalism; and of tragic frustration he inevitably feels that time, for him, is running out.

Because of relevance developments described in this telegram to matters raised in NSC/170/1,3 I am showing this telegram to General Taylor and Kenneth Young.

  1. According to notes attached to the source text, copies of this telegram were sent to Dulles, Smith, Robertson, Murphy, and Bowie. A marginal notation on the source text, presumably by Drumright, read: “This telegram should be closely held.”
  2. In telegram 560 to Seoul, the Department of State transmitted Eisenhower’s letter of Jan. 2 to Rhee; for text of the letter, see p. 1685.
  3. Ante, p. 1620.