314. Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State (Katzenbach) to Secretary of State Rusk 1


  • Pueblo


As requested, at Tab A is a redraft—omitting the lurid adjectives and the paragraph requesting leniency for the Pueblo crew—of the May 8 document the North Koreans want us to sign. (The original is at Tab B.)2

My personal view is that any move to tamper with the document now would be a serious mistake.

We have been following a two-pronged course in our negotiations at Panmunjom:

  • Don’t give an inch. This is the explicit approach we have taken in the closed meetings. We have probed for any flexibility in the NK position, without giving any flat assurances of our own willingness to compromise.
  • What compromise can we reach and repudiate after the crew is returned? Implicit in much that we have said, however (including a clandestine Australian contact with the North Koreans), is a hint that we would be willing to overwrite (in lieu of a simple signature) on the May 8 document an acknowledgement of receipt for the crew (assuming release is simultaneous with the overwrite). Our plan is to repudiate the document as soon as the crew is released, arguing that all General Woodward did was acknowledge receipt of the crew.

It may be that at some future date the North Koreans would agree to release the crew on less onerous terms than those they now insist upon. But this is pure conjecture, and could be months or years away.

It is by no means certain that the North Koreans will accept our overwrite ploy, should we reach the point where we might use it. But neither do we have any evidence to indicate that they will not accept it.

There are several compelling reasons against trying to negotiate a document to replace that of May 8:

  • —It would involve many weeks of negotiation (assuming we could ever arrive at a mutually acceptable document, which I doubt). This might be an acceptable price, if it were not for other serious drawbacks.
  • —The North Koreans will continue for a very long time to insist on a document which (a) admits espionage and intrusion; (b) apologizes for both; (c) recognizes the DPRK.
  • —If we are ever going to sign (or “acknowledge receipt on”) any document, the more patently false the better. The May 8 document is so bad that it will make our reasons for acceptance and repudiation that much more believable.3
  • —By entering into negotiations over the wording of the receipt we make the document “agreed”, thus increasing the difficulties of a clean-cut disavowal. (It is easier to disavow a document—outrageous blackmail on its face and “signed” for purely humanitarian reasons—than to disown one we have had a hand in drafting.) It would also make the overwrite ploy less credible to our own and world opinion.
  • —Anything less than the “clean-cut disavowal” mentioned above will raise questions about our consistent public denials of espionage and intrusion, and confirm the doubts of many—both in the US and abroad—who already tend to disbelieve them.

We still face a number of unpalatable decisions on our present course, but I am totally convinced that we should play the hand out before trying something else. If we now begin to argue about the wording of a document we have had before us for more than four months, it will be extremely difficult to justify waiting so long to raise an issue which can only add many additional weeks to our negotiations—and with no real likelihood of success.

Nicholas deB. Katzenbach 4

Tab A

The Government of the United States of America:

Accepts the statements of the crew of the USS Pueblo and the documents of evidence produced by the representative of the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the effect that the ship, which was seized by the naval vessels of the Korean People’s Army in the territorial waters of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on January 23, 1968, had intruded into the territorial waters of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on many occasions and conducted espionage activities on important military and state secrets of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea;

Accepts responsibility and apologizes for the acts of espionage committed by the United States ship against the Democratic People’s [Page 704]Republic of Korea after intruding into the territorial waters of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; and

Gives firm assurances that no United States ships will again intrude into the territorial waters of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files, 1967–69, POL 33–6 KOR N–US. Secret; Nodis.
  2. Attached but not printed, see Document 306.
  3. In a September 17 memorandum to Clifford, Warnke made a similar point, noting that “If we are to sign anything, I prefer that it be their document rather than one which we had revised. It would then be easier totally to repudiate the document.” (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD/OASD/ISA Files: FRC 73 A 1250, Korea 092.2)
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.