216. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Korea 0

1316. White House, Department, and other interested agencies closely following reports Embassy and CINCUNC on coup crisis. You are to be commended on alertness, initiative and timeliness characteristic of your reporting.

We recognize desirability of restoring authority of lawful government against reckless challenge of military clique invoking force to upset government freely chosen by Korean people under their own constitutional system. Even though no ideological issue apparently involved, our assessment is that coup attempt undermines stability and reputation of ROK and therefore is contrary to our joint interests.

However, the strange unwillingness of the President, armed forces leaders and other key officials to take any action to suppress coup or to take sides at all, with disappearance from public view of Prime Minister and other members of Cabinet, does not encourage view that Chang government can survive crisis unscathed. Irresolution of those officials who have it in their power to deal with uprising and apparent indifference general public to fate of Chang government provide poor foundation for exertion U.S. influence in behalf Chang Myon.

Therefore cautious attitude of wait-and-see has been adopted pending clarification of situation. We will continue to hope Government can reestablish itself and we will avoid any action which would adversely affect its prospects. On the other hand, in absence some indication government able and willing put forth some effective effort save itself, we will refrain from additional public identification of U.S. with fate of what may be a lost cabinet.1

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It was this line of reasoning which prompted high-level decision to take position reflected in May 16 noon press briefing (Deptel 1311).2 This is in no sense a repudiation of public statements made May 16 by you and General Magruder, which are approved.

While it is too early to spell out U.S. course to be followed event Chang Government not restored to power, thought is being given to this question. Recommendations from Embassy would be useful.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 795B.00/5-1661. Secret; Niact. Drafted by McConaughy, cleared with Bacon and Jenkins, and approved by McConaughy. Repeated to Tokyo, Geneva for Rusk, and Ottawa for the Presidential visit.
  2. The following morning at the Secretary’s staff meeting, McConaughy explained that “the President was disturbed by the Green-Magruder statements of support for the Chang Government and said the President has given Green approval for his exercise of necessary discretion but cautioned against further comment.” McConaughy said that the situation was difficult because the government was discredited by weak performance but the coup group did not offer promising leadership. Cleveland suggested the use of U.N. machinery, and Bowles asked Cleveland and McConaughy to confer with him that afternoon. (Department of State, S/S Files: Lot 66 D 147, Secretary’s Staff Meetings)
  3. In telegram 1311, May 16, the Department sent the Embassy a statement made by the Director of News, Lincoln White, at the noon briefing that day. The statement reads: “We continue to receive reports which are under study. The situation, however, is so fluid and unclear that we are unable to make substantive comment. The statements by General Magruder and Chargé d’Affaires Marshall Green were made within the scope of their authority in their posts.” (Ibid., Central Files, 795B.00/5-1661)