795.00/3–1654: Telegram

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

top secret

904. President Rhee’s March 11 letter to President Eisenhower (Embassy’s telegram 896)1 is in substance elaboration of question 11 in Foreign Minister Pyun’s March 3 letter to Secretary of State Dulles (Embassy’s telegrams 861 and 863)2 and as such represents further attempt use ROK attendance Korean Political Conference Geneva to obtain additional and important commitments from United States.

Most effective way to deal with both letters insofar as they relate to Geneva Conference would in our opinion be delivery to Rhee and Pyun by Embassy of written statement answering broad problems raised in both letters. Our statement might include points suggested Embassy’s telegram 863. We should, of course, make clear United States has not, does not and will not favorably consider alternatives outlined in Rhee letter.

Rhee apparently doubts conference possible without ROK participation and seems correspondingly confident he has us over a barrel. Assuming conference can in fact be held without ROK (query, can it?) it seems important that our reply give Rhee and Pyun no support for belief former’s letters to President Eisenhower will delay our preparations for Geneva. Any indication we proposing offer new concessions as price ROK attendance at conference would probably increase Rhee’s appetite.

Rhee letter can likewise be interpreted as his reply to President Eisenhower’s January 2 letter3 since Embassy understands Rhee’s [Page 37]first reply (copy unreceived here) was not delivered to President Eisenhower (memo RobertsonYang February 15 conversation).4 In that connection I interpret fourth paragraph Rhee letter as notification Rhee now considers himself without obligation give us further notice should he contemplate unilateral action. This does not render unilateral action by Rhee more likely but fact this point included in present letter, while exchange ratification mutual defense treaty still pending, is further example of Rhee’s failure to accept United States–ROK relations as two-way street. (Embassy’s telegram 903, March 16).5

With specific reference Rhee’s second so-called alternative, creation of 35–40 division ROK army with comparable naval and air developments would self-evidently be impossible burden on ROK economy and manpower even if project were to be underwritten by United States taxpayers. Department will recall this unrealistic proposal was advanced to Army Secretary Stevens by Prime Minister Paik last January (Embassy’s telegram 705).6 Insofar as Embassy aware, our reply is still pending. I also observe that although Rhee states ROK forces would be used “only for purpose of defense” that statement may be interpreted in light his definition ROK territory as extending to Yalu and Tumen rivers.

My recommendation accordingly is that I be authorized deliver statement (rather than letter) setting forth official United States Government position. Suggested statement should clearly set forth United States position in terms sympathetic to objective of unification of Korea while simultaneously leaving Rhee under no misapprehension concerning limits beyond which American Government unprepared to go in underwriting, directly or indirectly, Rhee’s objective of unification by whatever means and at whatever cost.7

  1. See the editorial note, supra.
  2. Both dated Mar. 6, pp. 29 and 31.
  3. For the text, see volume xv.
  4. The memorandum of conversation is not printed here; but concerning the undelivered letter from President Rhee, see footnote 3, p. 14.
  5. Not printed here. It recommended that the Department of State postpone the exchange of ratifications of the Mutual Defense Treaty in light of Rhee’s withdrawal of his assurance of no unilateral military action by the Republic of Korea (795B.5/3–1654). For documentation on this subject, see volume xv.
  6. Not printed here. For related documentation, see ibid.
  7. On Mar. 17, General Hull, at Admiral Radford’s request, forwarded his views on President Rhee’s letter. He rejected both alternatives proposed by Rhee, stating that the Geneva Conference must be held and Rhee must not be allowed to feel that he could extort promises from the United States in return for Korean participation at Geneva. (Telegram C-67435, Mar. 17, from Tokyo; 795.00/31054) Admiral Radford sent General Hull’s telegram to Dulles on Mar. 17, and expressed general agreement except for the extent to and manner in which the United States would reject Rhee’s alternative proposal. (JCS files; 091 Korea)