212. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Soviet Union1

102940. Literally Eyes Only for Ambassador. From the Secretary.

Captain of small Navy trawler-class surface ship, USS Pueblo, has reported that at approximately 0010 our time tonight,2 his vessel, according to his report, clearly outside any definition of territorial waters, was taken under fire with small number of badly wounded casualties. Vessel was then surrounded by North Korean naval craft which had been firing on it, and our last report from Captain was that he was being either towed or escorted into Wonsan harbor, roughly 25 miles distance.
Seoul, through UNC, should immediately seek MAC meeting. We understand you have already done so in connection with Seoul incidents, and although we are not clear whether attack and seizure can be construed as armistice violation, we would propose to use MAC channel in any event.3
Moscow should immediately reach Gromyko or highest available official to present facts and to express in strongest terms our view that Soviets should be in touch with North Koreans to obtain immediate release of vessel and appropriate care for wounded men. You should point out strongly that incident is bound to raise serious tension with North Koreans and must quickly become public. We believe Soviets should act at once to convey our position and strongest protest to North Koreans and should bring their influence to bear in the interest of avoiding any further consequences.
You may point out to Soviets that vessels of this type have been in international waters in this area for a considerable length of time and you may note, as you think appropriate, that its mission is similar to that of Soviet trawlers active in many parts of the world including close proximity of USA.
In addition, Moscow should convey facts immediately to Wilson party4 with suggestion that Wilson raise matter urgently with Kosygin.
All publicity on this matter will be handled from Washington. Orders to this effect have gone to military commands involved and you should hold matter on closest possible basis both before and after any announcement here.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 33–6 KOR N–US. Secret; Flash;Exdis. Also sent to Seoul and repeated to Tokyo. Drafted by Bundy; cleared by Brigadier General Steakley and in substance by Rusk and McNamara; and approved by Gendreau (S/S-O).
  2. The time given is approximately 2:10 p.m. Korean Standard Time on Tuesday afternoon, January 23. Eastern Standard Time is 14 hours behind Korean Standard Time and Greenwich Mean Time is 9 hours behind Korean Standard Time. Numerous detailed chronologies based on transmissions from the Pueblo were prepared in the days and weeks following the seizure of the ship to document the exact sequence of events and time frame involved as precisely as possible. Defense Intelligence Agency, Special Intelligence Summary, “Situation Regarding USS Pueblo,” DIASIS 24–68, January 24, contains an analysis of the seizure of the Pueblo and a chronology of events. (NSA, Center for Cryptologic History, Historical Files, V. Initial Reaction, Box 4) Chronologies are also in the Johnson Library, National Security File, National Security Council History, Pueblo Crisis 1968, Vol. I, Basic Study and Presidential Decisions, and ibid., Vol. III, Day-by-Day Documents, Part One.
  3. In telegram 102967 to Seoul, January 23, the Department instructed Porter to inform the ROKG of the incident; see footnote 2, Document 145.
  4. Reference is to British Prime Minister Harold Wilson who was visiting Moscow at that time.