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

3702. Ref: A. Seoul 3696;2 B. Seoul 3697.3 Country Team Message.

1. Shortly after midnight Jan 28, Swiss member NNSC (Barbey) telephoned following information, which he had received from Communist member NNSC, to senior member UNCMAC:

Between 2000 and 2100 hours January 27 the Communist members of NNSC met with MG Pak Chung-kuk, senior member KPA/CP/side of Military Armistice Commission. Pak requested them to transmit following official and unofficial messages from him to senior member UNCMAC. The messages, in Korean, were translated into English by KPA, then taken by Polish and Czech NNSC members to Swiss and Swedish members. Official message follows:

“Govt of North Korea thinks that solving question of ship and crew is impossible when made by threatening or using force. If the United States will try to use force to free the ship, KPA will answer with the same means and it is risk that instead of freeing the crew they would get only bodies. It is quite possible to solve this problem if USA will acknowledge that the people of the ship are prisoners of war and if US will show willingness to negotiate or discuss in a normal way when one side would like to have prisoners back.”4

2. The following unofficial message was given to Pole and Czech obviously for transmission also: [Page 537]

“Now the Captain recognizes his criminal acts …5 The crew are in very good condition. Although they acted as enemies in our coastal waters and committed a crime, those who are wounded are under normal medical care. The body of one killed is preserved. Further details about the situation of the crew members could be obtained through direct contact between both sides.”

3. Comment by Swiss member: This is interesting in that only two days ago Pak told his NNSC members “Even if not in territorial waters the ship was acting against us.”

4. Comment: Most unusual feature of foregoing is that Pak chose to use NNSC as channel. We can only surmise that Communist members NNSC had earlier passed request for info on crew members to him, despite statement to contrary to Swiss and Swede (Ref A). Experience with Pak at MAC indicates he would not have taken this action without instructions from Pyongyang.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 KOR/UN. Secret; Flash; Exdis. Repeated USUN.
  2. Telegram 3696 from Seoul, January 27, discussed a suggestion by the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission that Admiral Smith request information about the health and welfare of the Pueblo crew through the Joint Duty Officers at Panmunjom. All NNSC members would also submit a message, sent in their capacity as “reps of countries which have traditionally dealt with victims of international conflicts,” requesting similar information. (Ibid.)
  3. In telegram 3697 from Seoul, January 27, the Embassy reported the views of the NNSC toward the potential resolution of the Pueblo crisis through negotiations with North Korea. The Swedish and Swiss members of the commission, based on a conversation with the Communist members, concluded that the North Koreans could be prepared to discuss the crisis through the UN structure at Panmunjom and appeared to expect an official apology, perhaps with the intention of humiliating the United States. (Ibid.)
  4. When drafting a reply to Kosygin’s message, Rostow received and forwarded a copy of this cable to the President. With reference to Pak’s comments suggesting the crew be returned as prisoners of war, Rostow commented that that approach could be “the quickest track,” but would require pacification of the South Koreans by keeping some of the recently transferred aircraft in the ROK and by increasing U.S. funding of anti-infiltration measures to improve ROK security. He further advised the President: “Sir: This is the break. The problem is how to do it with maximum dignity.” (Memorandum from Rostow to the President, January 27; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Korea—Pueblo Incident, Vol. Ia, Part A [through January])
  5. Reference is to Bucher’s alleged confession broadcast by Radio Pyongyang on January 25.