229. Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State (Katzenbach) to President Johnson1


  • What We Are Doing About the Pueblo

The following is a brief description of what we have under way on the Pueblo:

On the Diplomatic Front:

  • —Reactions to our representations abroad are still coming in. We are sending you our analyses of them as soon as they are prepared. (I have already sent you 15 and will send you more in the morning.)2
  • —The Japanese have suggested that we agree to the formation of a fact-finding commission made up of the USSR, Japan and an undetermined third country. They propose that this commission determine the facts in the Pueblo case and make recommendations for resolution. We see many flaws in the proposal (e.g. it doesn’t handle the problem of North Korean infiltration into South Korea).3
  • —We have persuaded the Swiss and the Swedes (who, along with the Czechs and the Poles, make up the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission) to make inquiries about the status of the Pueblo crew. We have gone to the Czechs and the Poles to see if they will agree to go along with the Swiss-Swedish approach.
  • —At our request, the International Red Cross has agreed to make inquiries about the Pueblo killed and injured. The IRC has also agreed to ask for the return of the bodies of the dead, but feels that it can’t yet ask for the return of the crew. That will be the next step.4
  • —We are examining the pros and cons of another MAC meeting. We will have a recommendation for you on this tomorrow.
  • —We are studying another appeal to Communist countries with diplomatic representation in North Korea. If we feel there is a chance that any of them can influence Pyongyang we will go back at them again.
  • —We are looking at the merits and demerits of sending a special Presidential emissary to capitals that might exercise some influence on the North Koreans. We will have a recommendation for you in a day or two.
  • —We are considering whether we can put indirect pressure on the North Koreans (e.g. getting others to cut their trade).
  • —Buzz Wheeler will report tomorrow on about a dozen possible military actions we can take directly against North Korea (none of these now look very promising).
  • —I have another group trying to come up with assorted proposals of a less provocative nature than air strikes, etc.

We are looking into the feasibility of some action particularly directed against North Korean units in North Viet-Nam.

In the UN:

  • Goldberg will begin consultations tomorrow on a possible resolution. We can use this as a tactic—if we want to—for prolonging Security Council consideration.
  • —It was clear from the debate today that the Soviets have no taste for an extended debate. If we want to keep things going in the UN we will have to avoid coming to a vote on any resolution (since this would mean a Soviet veto).

My strong recommendation is that we keep the issue alive in the Security Council for a while. If the debate is closed off without a satisfactory result, it will mean heavy pressure on you to take other steps.

On the Intelligence Front:

  • —Dick Helms is studying possible ChiCom attitudes and reactions to various U.S. steps against North Korea. He also will report [Page 532] tomorrow on the location of the North Korean merchant and fishing fleets.5
  • —The preliminary results of our intelligence collection effort over Wonsan are in. We have pictures of the Pueblo which seems to indicate that no external damage has been done to the ship. We can’t tell, however, what equipment has been removed. There is no evidence of salvage operations at the point where the Pueblo was seized.

Public and Congressional Relations:

—We are preparing additional materials for you on how best to handle our public and Congressional relations.

I also have given several groups the task of coming up with proposals on how best to influence the USSR and Eastern Europeans. There have been several indications today that the Soviets—whatever their public utterances—are beginning to take the matter seriously. We are looking for ways to keep pressure on the Soviets.

(Note: We have just received a report—on which you will get more details in the morning—that an Eastern European source here says that the North Koreans will release the Pueblo crew on Monday and then scuttle the ship. We are now assessing the reliability of this information.)

Nicholas deB. Katzenbach
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Korea—Pueblo Incident, Vol. I, Part B (through January). Secret. Attached to a January 26 memorandum from Rostow to President Johnson in which he noted that Katzenbach “seeks to convince you that things are in somewhat better shape than you may think; and—basically, he is right.” The memorandum indicates that the President saw it.
  2. Memoranda from Katzenbach to the President, undated and January 30, updating the responses to the demarches are ibid. Responses were also recorded by the Korean Task Force in daily situation reports. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 33–6 KOR N–US)
  3. Earlier that day the Japanese Ambassador met with Rusk and gave him a paper containing the proposal. On January 29 he discussed the proposal in a meeting with Katzenbach. The proposed approach was also the subject of discussion between Ambassador Johnson and Japanese officials in Tokyo. Memoranda of conversation, cables, briefing papers, and similar documentation on this topic, January 26 to 31, are ibid.
  4. Documentation detailing U.S. approaches to the International Red Cross and the latter’s contacts with North Korea are ibid.
  5. The Office of National Estimates prepared two memoranda, both January 26, on the Korean situation that examined possible courses of action to end the Pueblo crisis and confront North Korean aggression. “Possible Developments in the Korean Situation” discussed three options for dealing with the situation: 1) continue exerting diplomatic pressures while advancing military preparations; 2) retaliate militarily; and 3) develop a new U.S.-ROK approach involving selective retaliation against North Korea. “Communist Reaction to Certain US Actions” noted that both the Soviet Union and Communist China had thus far refrained from direct involvement in the Korean situation. The analysis concluded that, although both nations would be alarmed by direct U.S. military activity against North Korea, neither would retaliate directly unless their territorial security were seriously threatened or breached. The paper cautioned, however, that U.S. military threats were unlikely to achieve an early resolution of the Pueblo crisis and could risk expansion of hostilities. (Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC History, Pueblo Crisis, 1968, Vol. III, Day-by-Day Documents, Part 3)