28. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • President Pak Chong-hui
  • Ambassador Winthrop G. Brown
  • Mr. Yi Hu-rak, Secretary to the President
  • Colonel Cho Sang-ho, Interpreter

SUBJECT

  • ROK Assistance to Viet Nam
1.
I told the President that we had received a very glowing report from Ambassador McGhee about the success of his visit to Bonn and the satisfaction of the German Government in it. I congratulated him on behalf of the Secretary. He said that he had been very pleased by the warmth of his reception by German officials.
2.
I said the reason for my call was to deliver a message from President Johnson about Viet Nam.2
3.
President Johnson was concerned about the situation in Viet Nam and was making a great effort to broaden and deepen the basis of international support for the present government. Fifteen nations and over a thousand non-Americans were already helping in Viet Nam [Page 54]and the presence of a ROK military unit there was very much appreciated. Nevertheless, the President was asking a number of other countries to give their support and was asking some countries, particularly Far Eastern countries, who were already contributing, to increase their contribution.
4.
President Johnson was not asking for combat troops.3 This was not that kind of war. He had in mind possibly engineer or construction units, transport pilots, LST's, medical or service units. He would like to know if the Korean Government would feel able to increase its present contribution.
5.
The President replied that his government wished to support the free world effort in Viet Nam in every possible way to the extent of its resources because he agreed that this was very important to the Free World and he supported the U.S. policy of helping the government of South Viet Nam. I said that President Johnson would deeply appreciate this reaction, at which point Yi Hu-rak intervened to say that the President would give his answer after he had consulted with his staff. I had already said that I did not expect the President to give me a firm answer right away, but asked that he let me know his decision soon so that General Howze could begin to discuss details with the Minister of National Defense. The President promised to do so.
6.
The President said he did not know the new Viet Nam Prime Minister but had the impression that he was quite capable. I said that we felt that the Prime Minister had courage, the Deputy Prime Minister political skill, and that General Khanh was a good soldier, so we felt the government was promising. However, it had not yet achieved a firm political basis and we felt that its doing so was a fundamental prerequisite to success against the Viet Cong. Further support from the Free World would help materially in this respect.
7.
The President said that he felt that more vigorous action by the United States would be helpful in defeating the Viet Cong and in getting the support of wavering neighboring countries. He said that Korea was willing to send two combat divisions if necessary. Moreover, there were a large number of recently discharged veterans in Korea who were willing to go to Viet Nam to fight if they could be equipped and transported.
8.
I explained that we felt that the time had not yet come for introduction of outside combat troops but promised to pass on the President's views to President Johnson.
9.
I thanked him again for his favorable reaction to our President's request.
10.
Half an hour after getting back to my office I received a call from the Blue House saying that I could ask General Howze to get in touch with MND on this matter.4
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, DEF 19–3 KOR S-VIET S. Secret. This memorandum along with another recording Brown's conversation with Pak concerning the MAP transfer program were transmitted in airgram A–296 from Seoul, December 21. The meeting was held at the Blue House.
  2. Transmitted in telegram 531 to Seoul, December 17. (Ibid., AID VIET S)
  3. The ROK Government was willing to send combat troops to Vietnam, as the Chairman of the ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff reminded the Embassy on November 3. (Telegram 425 from Seoul, November 4; ibid., DEF 19 KOR S-VIET S) The Embassy had also received information about the formation of the Freedom Defense Volunteer Corps. Being formed with support from the Korean branch of the Asian People's Anti-Communist League, the unit would purportedly fight in Vietnam or in any other country facing a Communist threat. (Airgram A–265 from Seoul, December 3; ibid., POL 13–8 KOR S)
  4. After receiving information from Howze listing the Korean military-support units that could be sent to Vietnam without degrading Korean defenses, the Department of State authorized opening negotiations with the Korean Government. The Department of State noted its desire to have an “initial ROK force just over one thousand personnel” composed of engineers and similar types of units in Vietnam as soon as possible. Negotiations between Howze and General Kim Chong-O began on December 25. (Telegram UK 50915 from COMUSKOREA, December 19; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. XXIV; telegram 557 to Seoul, December 23, and telegram 573 from Seoul, December 26; both in National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, DEF 19 KOR S-VIET S)