164. Editorial Note

On February 8, 1968, Ambassador Porter received instructions from the Department of State to “inform President Pak in confidence that we are giving urgent consideration to sending an envoy to talk with him.” (Telegram 112452 to Seoul, February 8; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Korea—Pueblo Incident—Cactus IIa, Cactus Seoul Cables, February 10 to February 28, 1968) The action was in response to a request made by Korean Foreign Minister Choi through Ambassador Kim to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Berger on January 31. The Foreign Minister believed that by sending a special presidential envoy to Korea to address the crises brought on by the Blue House raid and the seizure of the USS Pueblo the United States [Page 348] would demonstrate its commitment to South Korea and affirm the strength of the bilateral relationship. (Memorandum of conversation, January 31; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 33–6 KOR N–US) When informing the United States Embassy in Seoul of this conversation, Deputy Assistant Secretary Berger noted the Department of State’s initial reluctance to send an envoy out of concern that the move “would arouse wide speculation as to why he was sent and why normal channels were to be reinforced, and even rumors that we contemplating military action.” (Telegram 109068 to Seoul, February 2; ibid., POL 7 US) Ambassador Porter also expressed reservations, noting that sending an envoy to Korea presented no clear advantage to the United States. (Telegram 3902 from Seoul, February 3; ibid., POL 7 US)

Although the South Korean request initially received a cool reception, the Department of State and the White House continued to consider the request as events unfolded within Korea. In telegram 120315 to Tokyo, February 24, briefing the Ambassador on a possible mission, the Department noted that the raid on the Blue House followed by the Pueblo incident had “caused consternation within the ROK and emotional fury on the part of the ROKG leadership, particularly President Park, who became increasingly obsessed with the desire to strike back across the DMZ.” U.S. diplomatic efforts to address the crises in the United Nations and through the Military Armistice Commission caused the South Korean leaders to view U.S. intentions with increasing suspicion. Within a short period of time relations between the United States and the Republic of Korea had seriously deteriorated. In light of those developments, President Johnson decided to send a special envoy to South Korea. (Ibid., POL 7 US/VANCE)

On February 9 President Johnson wrote to President Pak confirming the appointment of Cyrus R. Vance as special envoy. Vance’s instructions from the President were to discuss “current common problems, to inform himself on the current critical situation, and to report back to me his findings and recommendations.” (Letter from President Johnson to President Pak, February 9; Johnson Library, National Security File, Head of State Correspondence, Korea, Park Correspondence, Vol. I) Immediately after release of a White House announcement of the appointment, Vance left for Korea. He was accompanied by Colonel Abbott C. Greenleaf, Military Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and by John P. Walsh, Deputy Executive Secretary, Daniel A. O’Donohue, Foreign Affairs Officer, and Maria E. Gardosik, Secretariat Assistant from the Department of State. The Vance mission arrived in Seoul on February 11 and departed on February 15. (Vance Mission to Korea, Chronology, February 8–15; ibid., Country File, Korea—Pueblo Incident, Vance Mission to Korea (A), February 9 to 15, 1968)

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The importance of and the delicacy surrounding the Vance mission’s objectives of easing tensions and buttressing U.S. relations with the Republic of Korea was underscored by the Department of State’s rejection of the request by the Embassy in Japan for Vance to return to the United States via Tokyo to brief the Japanese on his findings in Korea. (Telegrams 5513 from Tokyo, February 10, and 113554 to Seoul and Tokyo, February 11; both National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 7 US/VANCE) In addition, Ambassador Porter, General Bonesteel, and Vance agreed that the latter should travel directly from Seoul to Washington, rather than proceeding to Saigon as President Johnson wished, so that the purpose of the mission was not diluted by other stops and issues. Because of the “depth of emotions in Seoul” and to eliminate any risk of affronting President Pak and other Korean leaders, Vance was to report the findings of his mission personally to President Johnson immediately upon his return to the United States. (Message from Rostow to Vance, February 13; ibid.; and telegram from Vance to Rostow, February 14; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Korea—Pueblo Incident, Miscellaneous, Vol. I)