110. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President
  • H.E. Il Kwon Chung, Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea
  • Mr. Yoon Sae Yang, Interpreter
  • Ronald P. Myers, Interpreter, Embassy Seoul

The President welcomed the Prime Minister to his office and told him that he wanted to talk privately before they joined the rest of the official party in the Cabinet Room. The President wanted to tell the Prime Minister that, of all the nations he had visited during his Asian tour last fall, he enjoyed Korea the most. He wanted the Prime Minister to tell President Park and the Korean people how impressed he was with the courage, friendship, gallantry, and love of freedom evinced by the people of Korea. Moreover, General Westmoreland has said that there are no finer fighting men in Viet-Nam than the Korean troops there, and the President wanted the Prime Minister to tell the mothers of these fine boys just how proud we all are of the job they are doing in Viet-Nam.

The President said he would be going to Guam to discuss matters of personnel, planning and the pacification program with Ambassador Lodge and General Westmoreland; he would be leaving next Saturday night (March 18). The President was aware that the Prime Minister had been in Viet-Nam not long ago and would want to hear the Prime Minister’s impressions of the situation there.

The President said he wanted to talk about what Korea might be able to do in Viet-Nam after the Korean elections—not only explore the possibility of sending more military forces, but also civilian groups. The President noted the great contribution which Korea has already made in Viet-Nam: he said it had been an impossible job, which the Koreans had done magnificently. The problem now, the President said, [Page 236] is to get our men out of Viet-Nam as soon as possible. It is not only essential to finish the military job quickly, but also to work toward building up civil institutions—creating a proper environment for elections and transferring power to a civilian government. In this connection, the experience of the Koreans in recent years will be of great value to us and to the Vietnamese. We need to concentrate on the civilian programs. The President said he was hoping for more help in this regard from Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, and others. The President asked the Prime Minister’s views regarding this matter.

Continuing, the President pointed out that he was sending Mr. Ball to Korea on March 16.2 The President said he was very anxious that this mission be successful, since it is of vital importance that we find ways to promote American private investment in Korea and trade between our two countries. The President said he would be talking with Mr. Ball and the members of the mission prior to their departure, and would underline to them the importance of what they could do.

The President then asked the Prime Minister for his views on Viet-Nam.

The Prime Minister conveyed to the President the warm personal regards of President Park. The Prime Minister said that the President was now known to all Koreans, even in the smallest villages.

[Here follows discussion of Vietnam.]

The Prime Minister then presented to the President a personal letter from President Park. (The letter concerned modernization of Korean military equipment, US assistance in supplying Korean food to Korean troops in Viet-Nam and Korean participation in the pacification program.)3

The President told the Prime Minister that we would consider immediately the points raised in President Park’s letter. He said he would consult with Secretary McNamara on the question of supplying Korean troops and on military equipment immediately. Regarding the pacification program the President told the Prime Minister that this would be a subject of conversation during his Guam talks with General [Page 237] Westmoreland and that our new ambassador would be in touch with the Korean Government to see how we can join together in our efforts.

The President asked the Prime Minister when the Korean elections would be held. The Prime Minister replied that the elections were scheduled for May 3. The President asked if the Government were having any troubles. The Prime Minister replied that, although the opposition was now united, President Park was very popular and respected by the people. The Prime Minister expected that President Park would enjoy a majority of a few million votes. The President asked if Viet-Nam were a difficult issue for the Government. The Prime Minister said it was, but that the normalization of relations with Japan was the biggest issue for the opposition. The President asked if President Park would make it all right; the Prime Minister said that he would—with President Johnson’s help.

The Prime Minister said that he wanted to discuss the modernization of Korean forces, and had three specific requests:

The Prime Minister requested that Korean helicopter pilots be trained for duty in Viet-Nam in conjunction with Korean forces there. The Prime Minister noted that, at present, American helicopter pilots are being used to transport ROK troops, but said that the problem of language was hampering the efficiency of this operation. The President said he would talk with the Defense Department about this problem.
The Prime Minister referred to the recent sinking of a Korean navy vessel by a North Korean shore batteries and said that Korea needs one more destroyer. The Prime Minister said there was a danger that the North Koreans would intensify their espionage and other military activities in the pre-election period. The day before the Prime Minister left Korea (March 9) three North Korean agents had been apprehended. The Prime Minister believed that more and more of these agents would be sent down to the South as the elections grew nearer. The Prime Minister repeated his request for a “small” destroyer as soon as possible. He said the destroyers presently in service in the Korean navy had been in use since 1946 and were the oldest type still in operation. Their speed was only in the 18–24 knot range, and they were simply not competitive as compared with North Korean naval equipment.
Referring to President Park’s letter to the Prime Minister described to the President the importance to Korean troops of kimchi, which he said was vitally important to the morale of Korean troops. The Prime Minister said that, when he had been in the United States at the Command and General Staff College he had longed for kimchi even more than he had longed for his wife back in Korea. Similarly, the Korean troops in Viet-Nam vitally needed their kimchi. Last Christmas President Park had sent some kimchi to the troops in Viet-Nam, paying [Page 238] the expense out of his own pocket. To supply sufficient quantities of kimchi would cost something like $3–4 million per year. The Prime Minister apologized for raising what he said appeared to be a minor matter but said that President Park had specifically asked him to mention the problem to President Johnson.

As President Johnson started to proceed to the Cabinet Room, the Prime Minister said he had one last request to make. In view of the importance of developing the Korean economy—which President Johnson himself had often stressed—it is vital that Korean exports to all parts of the world be increased, especially to the United States. The Prime Minister proposed that an annual meeting of the Korean Minister of Commerce and Industry and the US Secretary of Commerce be instituted.

The Prime Minister said that this matter is very important to his Government. The President said that we will accept this proposal.

The President and the Prime Minister ended their private conversation at this point, proceeding to meet with the rest of the official party in the Cabinet Room.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 7 KOR S. Secret; Nodis. The meeting took place in the Oval Office. The Prime Minister, accompanied by the Minister of Defense and the Minister of Commerce, visited the United States March 14 and 15. U.S. objectives of the visit were to maintain close and warm relations with the ROK, to continue bilateral U.S.-Korean relations on Vietnam, to assure Korea of continued U.S. military and economic support, and to demonstrate U.S. support for Pak. (Memorandum from Rusk to Johnson, March 11; ibid., POL 15–1 KOR S) A summary of the topics discussed and the U.S. responses was transmitted in telegram 157793 to Seoul, March 17. (Ibid., POL 7 KOR S) A joint statement issued at the conclusion of this meeting is in American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1967, pp. 775–776.
  2. Ball, an executive at the Lehman Brothers investment firm, headed a group of business representatives from 23 companies and 3 banks visiting Korea. The Embassy and Ball deemed the mission highly successful, because most of the representatives expressed an intent to invest in Korea or to study investment potentials further. (Telegram 5130 from Seoul, March 28; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69,POL 7 US; and letter from Ball to President Johnson, May 16; Johnson Library, National Security File, Special Head of State Correspondence, Korea, April 1, 1967 to December 31, 1967)
  3. A copy of Pak’s March 8 letter, attached to a March 14 letter from Fleck to Rear Admiral Lemos is in National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 7 KOR S.