237. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Korea0

125. Ref: (A) Seoul’s 88,1 (B) Seoul’s 89,2 (C) Seoul’s 90,3 (D) Seoul’s 94.4

Appreciate incisive appraisal Korean situation ref A, in which Dept generally concurs. Necessary of course bear in mind that opportunism and thirst for power, believed originally large factor in coup along with patriotic motives, may grow stronger with passage of time, thus complicating US relationships with SCNR.
Dept however encouraged by indications para 10 ref A that problems facing ROK military government increasingly better understood by Pak Chong-hui and others. Also welcome indications para 7 ref A that relationships between Korean and US leaders and agencies improving. Believe Ambassador’s skillful application Task Force Report guidelines, and his and Green’s effective dealings with ROK leaders, largely responsible for improvement thus far.
Dept prepared accept as working hypothesis that new ROK leadership essentially anti-Communist. Embassy requested, however, continue giving priority attention to indications bearing on validity this hypothesis, whether tending to support or contradict.
In regard Embassy recommendations para 12 reftel A5 Dept recognizes importance US role in critical Korean situation and need for constructive application of influence. (See para 7 below.) Ambassador’s statement reported reftel D believed useful expression US interest, sympathy and support in response to specific constructive ROKG action.
Dept believes however it important to avoid impression of unconditional US support for present ROK regime, as pointed out in para 13 reftel A, and to key our statements to ROKG actions clearly in our mutual interests. Accordingly, in view of lack detailed information here on nature and affiliations of persons released, Dept did not issue statement concerning Constitution Day amnesty as suggested ref B.
Dept will however be prepared make appropriate statements related to specific and concrete events and actions ROKG which clearly evidence progress toward mutually desired goals, and invites further recommendations from Embassy this connection.
Ambassador requested obtain advance Dept concurrence where possible for statements indicating US approval ROKG or its actions. Importance time factor mentioned para 12 ref A nonetheless recognized and Ambassador authorized make appropriate statements such as reported ref D on own initiative if in his judgement such action necessary and time does not permit advance clearance.
In regard press reporting on ROK developments and US attitude toward ROKG, Dept believes your guidance to American reporters such as Rosenthal is very useful.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 795B.00/7-1861. Confidential. Drafted by Macdonald; cleared by Bacon, Abram E. Manell of FE/P, Jenkins, and Peterson; and approved by Steeves. Repeated to Tokyo and CINCPAC for POLAD.
  2. In telegram 88 from Seoul, July 15, the Embassy reported the results of an investigation of the May 1961 military coup. The investigation found that the “mainsprings” of the revolt were “patriotic, nationalistic, and anti-communist.” Disgust with corruption, incompetence, and ineffectiveness of the civilian government and fear of possible Communist subversion caused the revolt. Although the Embassy did not discount the possibility of “communist sleepers” among the revolutionary leaders and their civilian advisers, it felt that General Pak Chun-hui’s defection from communism was legitimate. (Ibid., 795B.00/7-1561)
  3. In telegram 89 from Seoul, July 17, the Embassy reported that the ROK had granted amnesty to 1,293 persons held in jail. This was precisely the kind of act of clemency that the Embassy had been encouraging the SCNR to make. Berger hoped the U.S. Government could make a statement welcoming this action. (Ibid., 795B.00/7-1761) Rusk’s statement at a news conference on July 27 is printed in American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1961, p. 483.
  4. In telegram 90 from Seoul, July 17, Berger reported his efforts to encourage better press coverage of the Military Government by The New York Times journalist in Seoul. (Department of State, Central Files, 795B.00/7-1761)
  5. In telegram 94 from Seoul, July 18, Berger explained that he had made a statement welcoming the amnesty for political prisoners. (Ibid., 795B.00/7-1861)
  6. In paragraph 12 of telegram 88, Berger stated that the Embassy might have to come out publicly in favor of the ROK Government even in the absence of desired actions. Berger would keep the Department informed in advance of his intentions in this respect, but quick and timely action could be of the essence.