237. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Korea 1

106085. Ref: Seoul’s 3706.2

We fully understand nature of problems and believe we can meet all of them with following approach.
It is apparent that North Koreans now realize full possible consequences of their actions and that Soviets have almost certainly told them to defuse situation. Easiest way for them to immediately ease acute tension and anger is to return Pueblo crew, and possibly vessel. It is imperative in ROK and our interest that nothing be done to interfere with this and that we make it as easy as possible for them to get off hook. To raise assassination and raider problem as you suggest at same meeting will only complicate and delay solution to all our problems.
The North Koreans will probably talk tough and try to humiliate us and ROK. If they do we should let them rant and ignore it. The velvet glove approach is the best, for there is a steel fist in it, and the North Koreans know it. We should not call their attention to it or make any threats, or at this juncture even call excessive attention to the gravity of the situation. They know how grave it is. We should be business like and non-contentious.
We expect the first round of talks will produce the release of the crew. Admiral Smith should try obtain vessel as well. The North Koreans may ask UNCMAC to sign a receipt for the men, as they did in the helicopter case, on which is written confession of guilt that they were engaged in espionage and violated territorial waters.UNCMAC should not be drawn into polemics, and only state quietly and repeatedly that North Koreans have their view of matter and we have ours. He is not authorized to sign a statement of the kind they are asking for.
If they insist on apology we should reply all our data indicate no violation. If after crew is released and we talk with Bucher and [Page 548] other crew members we find that the vessel was within the territorial waters claimed by North Korea we will make this fact public.
You can say to Park that as soon as the men are released, or if the release is long-delayed, announcement will be made of our intention to keep augmented forces in the area in view of North Korean campaign against the ROK. Also you may tell Park we are considering substantial additional MAP for the ROK to strengthen their anti-infiltration and military forces. We will also announce that two destroyers will be provided Korea, with date for delivery of first. You can tell Park that we will airlift available CIGOREP items as practicable, and will give this program same priority as we give Viet-Nam.
Para 6 is for Park alone and must not be published in any way.
We would think that when these announcements are made they will give ample assurances to Park and his military leaders and people who are concerned and interested. These announcements will be accompanied by request by UNCMAC for further senior level meetings with North Koreans to press insistently for an end to the North Korean violations in the DMZ and infiltration.
President Park is a military man, wise and a realist, and the approach to him should be made in these terms. The enemy is about to retreat from one of its exposed positions. When we take that we will move on the next ones.
You should see Park soonest and outline relevant parts of above strategy emphasizing this represents President’s own views on how next moves should be made. Admiral Smith’s message should be held for time being. If meeting with Park results in his concurrence or acquiescence, Admiral Smith should proceed to deliver message to NK MAC. However, if Park strongly objects our approach you should come back with Flash message.
On message to be sent to NK MAC, revise para 5 as follows:

“5. It has been suggested that further details could be obtained through direct contact between both sides. I therefore request that the names of the injured and dead be provided us through the Joint Duty Officers. Further I request an immediate meeting of the Senior Members of both sides to discuss the modalities for resolving this matter promptly.”

We suspect that North Koreans will want private meeting initially, and perhaps throughout, and under cover of that say we insisted on private meeting where we confessed our sins. It should be made clear in initial contact that we prepared to agree to either open or closed sessions whichever they wish.
There are great domestic problems and interest in this situation as well as those of world-wide implication. We are sensitive to the [Page 549] Korean problems and have gone very far to meet them but we cannot permit ourselves become satellite of ROK.3
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 33–6 KOR N–US. Secret; Flash; Nodis; Cactus. Repeated to USUN. Drafted by Berger; cleared by Rostow, McNamara, Rusk, and Katzenbach; and approved by Walsh. A draft version was approved by the President and read by him in its entirety during a phone conversation with Goldberg, who also approved its contents; see Document 236.
  2. See the attachment to Document 235.
  3. Printed from an unsigned copy.