293. Telegram From the Embassy in Korea to the Department of State0

640. Ref: Embtel 639 rptd Tokyo 192.1

1.
After seeing PriMin I went directly to Gen Meloy to discuss PriMin’s alarming observations about extent of armed forces involvement in new coup plots. Gen Kim Chong-oh, C/S ROK Army, was with Gen Meloy and I asked him to join us.
2.
They both expressed astonishment and disbelief in PriMin’s information (para 3 reftel) discounted most of it, and wondered where he got his info. Gen Kim said he knew nothing of possible frontline unit defections.
3.
I said I had to report PriMin’s remarks to Washington, and while I welcomed these assurances, fact remained that two coup plots had been uncovered, that previous evening PriMin informed me of coup plot by rightist “Chokchong” and of reports that members of political party were organizing terrorist group to assassinate Park. With four major groups involved or allegedly involved in coup plots, I thought it essential Gen Meloy and I meet with Park, all Chiefs of Staff, Minister of Defense, and PriMin to discuss situation. I asked Gen Kim what would be impact on armed forces if substantial numbers from four major Korean factional or political groups were arrested. Could forces be kept united under these circumstances? Gen Kim said effect would be very serious.
4.
I said if any person is really involved in a coup plot the Korean Govt must, of course, act. But speaking frankly I thought some of these reports of plots or involvement were fabricated for the clear purpose of creating turmoil in order force Chairman Park to reverse his Feb 18 decision.
5.
I asked Gen Kim who was stimulating student anti-American demonstrations? Who was spreading propaganda about American intervention? Who encouraged Chairman Park to propose to introduce [Page 629] martial law, suspend political activity, and delay elections? Who planted the phony story that chief of air force had resigned? Who besides Communists had an interest in turmoil.
6.
I pointed out that it was Chiefs of Staff and Minister of Defense who gave Chairman Park ultimatum that Kim Chong-p’il must leave country and there must be an investigation into ROK-CIA scandals. This would not be forgiven by Kim Chong-p’il and his supporters. Did this mean that he and other Chiefs of Staff and Minister of Defense would before long find themselves on list of people accused of something or other and purged? We had much evidence that Kim Chong-p’il’s machine in and out of Democratic Republican Party was still intact, well financed, and active, and he knew as well as we that they are determined to create confusion in order to force Park to call off his Feb 18 announcement.
7.
Gen Kim did not dissent, I asked where Korea was going, saying we want to help Chairman Park during transition and will do what we can to keep situation stable. But it is now in Korean hands whether some semblance of reason and order will be introduced into situation. Korean armed forces were only stable and stabilizing institution in Korea. He and other Chiefs of Staff had moved into chaotic situation in early February and brought some sense and stability into situation. Park’s Feb 18 announcement and Kim Chong-p’il’s departure were the result. Gen Meloy and I said that that achievement was now threatened. The situation was again disintegrating and he and his colleagues had once again to move in to make their weight and wisdom felt.
Berger
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files,POL 26 S KOR. Confidential; Limit Distribution. Repeated to Tokyo and CINCPAC.
  2. In telegram 639, March 14, Berger reported a conversation he had with Prime Minister Kim Hyon-chol who informed Berger that the situation was becoming increasingly chaotic as a result of various coup and assassination plots. The Prime Minister expected large-scale student demonstrations in favor of Pak reversing himself and agreeing to run for President. He also predicted anti-American student demonstrations. Kim stated that plotting was widespread and the threat to the Military Government was serious. According to Kim Hyon-chol, many ROK army units were involved and there could even be defection of frontline ROK troops to North Korea. (Ibid.)