162. Telegram From the Embassy in Korea to the Department of State1

4087. Ref: Seoul 4083.2

Prime Minister requested me to call this afternoon. Foreign Minister and PriMin’s Principal Secretary Hong also present. This meeting revolved almost entirely around their pleas to save their face through some kind of arrangement assuring ROK presence at Panmunjom private meetings. I told them that we cannot risk having this channel cut off, and we felt quite certain that NK’s would refuse to participate if we insisted on ROK presence. Instead of urging something of this kind they should be taking lead with all the material we had furnished to face their Assembly and form press opinion. It seemed incredible that fact that we wished to use only channel available to us to try to get release of crew and Pueblo should cause such a stir in ROK and I told Chong we looking directly to him and his colleagues to get matters back in hand. We would all find ourselves in much worse condition if we tried to introduce ROK representative into closed meetings there and encountered as a result NK refusal to meet.3
They inquired about Secretaries meetings and I said these are called as they seem necessary. Could we call one? I said I would look into it. They apparently draw some comfort from fact that ROK representative is present at such meetings.
Prime Minister said that we could really turn heat off of this issue here if we would consider distinguished special envoy coming directly from President Johnson. I knew they were thinking in this vein, which was reason I mentioned subject in my 4008 (not Cactus).4 I said I did not like the atmosphere here at this point and there would be little purpose in having such a visitor encounter demonstrations, hostile press comment and the like. Chong was most vehement in his assurance that there would be no problem of this nature, he and Foreign Minister reiterating time and again that a high-level visitor would solve the problem.
These ministers displayed none of the tough attitude I encountered in President Park earlier in day. They did not touch on any aspect of need for military measures against the North, being solely concerned with drubbing they are receiving from Assembly and press.
It is true that announcement of high-level visitor would preoccupy Assembly and press as we proceed with our closed meetings at Panmunjom during next few days. I am unable to assess at this point what lasting value it might have. If things worsen here, it could very well be of great assistance to us to have President Park and his friends told what consequences of any uncoordinated action against the north would be. On balance I favor such a visit provided a prestigious public figure would be available to make it.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 33–6 KOR N–US. Secret; Immediate;Nodis; Cactus.
  2. Document 161.
  3. The evening of February 8 the Presidential Secretary phoned the Embassy and “indicated reluctant recognition of fact that closed meetings at Panmunjom must go on.” Porter thought the call, coupled with his meetings, indicated that the Koreans were ready to accept the situation. (Telegram 4090 from Seoul, February 8; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 33–6 KOR N–US)
  4. Document 156.