318. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Korea1

251495. Subject: Instructions for Twenty-third Meeting.

Although Pak’s unambiguous acceptance of simultaneity and willingness release entire crew are heartening factors, para which he added to May 8 document may make overwrite play more difficult to execute. (Other differences seem trivial.) As you noted, added para is clever combination of signature and receipt which turns our demand for simultaneity against us. Woodward clearly has worthy opponent.
Problem seems to us to lie in clarifying overwrite ploy sufficiently but not too much. We must make quite clear to Pak what we intend to do and satisfy ourselves that he accepts it. If at moment of signature overwrite were rejected it would be most embarrassing for us and if Woodward for humanitarian reasons were compelled to sign on their dotted line, we could not plausibly argue that this had been unforeseen contingency for which Woodward had not had instructions. Next meeting should therefore above all pin down Pak’s acquiescence in overwrite—if he can give it.
On other hand we recognize Pak probably cannot go beyond direct agreement to specific procedures. His authorities will plan to [Page 714]present overwrite as USG ratification of body of document and we cannot expect explicit language from Pak which would undercut that plan. On our side, we should try to place on negotiating record language as helpful to our case as we can without killing deal. We recognize Woodward will have to decide as he goes along how far beyond minimum he can risk going.
Woodward should also be aware that although our present intent is to press hard with overwrite and he should not say anything to encourage Pak to hope for more, we do not flatly exclude possibility of eventually meeting their demand if overwrite does not work.
You should call next meeting without delay and have Woodward open along following lines:
  • “A. I am pleased to note that at our last meeting you agreed very clearly to the principle that the entire crew will be released at the same time that I acknowledge on your document that I am receiving them.
  • B. With this agreement on your part I believe that we can now proceed to discuss the practical details of the release.
  • C. I assume that you will want to transfer the crew to my custody here at Panmunjom. Is this correct?
  • D. The other important aspect of the release is the time. I indicated at our last meeting that I assumed 24 hours would be adequate time from the moment when we have settled all aspects of the problem to the moment of release. Am I correct? If you need more than 24 hours, how much more and why?”
Pak may respond directly to above queries, but more likely will preface by noting his “understanding” Woodward willing to sign document passed at last meeting and may give no more information in absence of confirmation. We will find useful whatever info on time and place Woodward can extract without confirming Pak’s “understanding”, but such info not essential at this stage and Woodward should give priority to avoiding confirmation that he will “sign” by reiterating “acknowledge receipt” each time Pak says “sign” and eventually using paras 9–11 below.
If info forthcoming, Woodward should then probe on other aspect of transfer. He should indicate he will wish first to verify that all 82 men present, then have them pass to UNC side while he is actually acknowledging receipt. He should say we want no press present. Pak will presumably insist on them and after arguing hardship for crew who have already suffered enough for carrying out orders, Woodward should agree to report Pak’s demand.
Woodward should give strong warning at appropriate moment, perhaps in above context, against any breach of privacy of talks. He should point out we have been scrupulous in observing secrecy and NK record not bad but note period immediately before release most delicate. Any breach at that time and in particular any assertion by [Page 715] NK sources that US on verge of apology would be most harmful and could result in breakdown of arrangements.FYI. This problem is of course very real and Woodward’s tone and presentation should be designed impress Pak with seriousness of warning. If no appropriate occasion has arisen, this warning should be given at conclusion of meeting. End FYI.
After Pak has said all he will (perhaps nothing) on practical arrangements, Woodward should turn to real problem: form of document to be used. After referring, if appropriate, to Pak’s statement of what he expects, Woodward should say as much of following as he feels he can:
  • “A. I want to make perfectly clear exactly what I am prepared to do to solve the problem we have been discussing in these meetings. I do not want there to be any doubt in your mind or mine about what the other intends to do.
  • B. On May 8 you presented a draft of what you would consider a suitable ’document of apology and assurance.’ I subsequently pointed out to you the problem raised by the divergences between your draft and the facts. We have told you and I repeat now that the mission of the Pueblo was not ’espionage,’ it was intelligence, that we can not accept the confessions and the ’evidence’ you have shown us as ’proof’ that the Pueblo intruded into the territorial waters claimed by you, and that we can not apologize for actions which we do not believe took place. You may confirm our statements on these points in the record of the Seventh, Fourteenth and Seventeenth Closed Meetings and elsewhere. We have also told you and I repeat now that we are prepared to assure you that our naval vessels will continue to be ordered to remain more than 12 nautical miles from your coast. You may confirm our statements on this point on the record of the Seventh Closed Meeting and subsequently.
  • C. Despite these statements you have continued to demand that I accept and sign your document and you have held the crew hostage to obtain my signature. I continue to object most strongly to this unprincipled blackmail.”
An alternate, and for Pak, less troublesome formulation of these points, would be:
  • “A. Unchanged from 9.A.
  • B. On May 8 you presented a draft of what you would consider a suitable ’document of apology and assurance.’ I subsequently pointed out to you the problems raised by the divergences between your draft and what we believe to be the facts. With regard to your assertions that the mission of the Pueblo was espionage’, that you had provided us with evidence’ which proved that the Pueblo intruded into your territorial waters, and that we should apologize for these acts, our position has been clearly placed on the record of these meetings. That position has not altered. We have also told you and I repeat now that we are prepared to assure you that our naval vessels will continue to be ordered to remain more than 12 nautical miles from your coast.
  • C. First sentence only from 9.C.”

Para 10 is minimum we believe should be gotten on record before proceeding to deliver following. Woodward should of course feel free to select any variations bracketed by foregoing poles. He should then continue: “Nevertheless, in order to reach a solution of this problem, in order to reduce tensions in the area, and in order to permit these 82 innocent men to return to their families, I am prepared to use the draft you presented me at the September 30 meeting as a basis for solving the problem by acknowledging on it that I am receiving the custody of the crew. I will write on the draft the words:

I hereby acknowledge receipt of the Pueblo crew’ and I will sign my name and title. Do you have any objection to these arrangements?”

If Pak objects that sentence to be written is superfluous in view of para added Sept 30 to May 8 document, Woodward may suggest para added be removed. FYI: We actually see more advantage to retention of added para since redundancy of overwrite following added para buttresses argument that overwrite is all Woodward is signing. We can, however, accept it either way so long as concept of overwrite in Woodward’s hand is retained. End FYI.2
If Pak seems in genuine doubt about some aspects of above procedure, Woodward should try to clarify. If he insists in usual fashion on interpreting Woodward’s statements as acceptance of signature of document, Woodward should repeat “You are not using my language” and refer him to statement in para 11 above.
If Pak had earlier refused to be drawn into discussion of place and time of release and other details, Woodward should make further attempt when foregoing discussion of overwrite has been concluded.
When and if it becomes clear that Pak fully understands and accepts proposal in para 11, and assuming other details seem generally in hand, Woodward should ask Pak to fix date on which crew will be released. If Pak does so, Woodward should propose meeting 24 hours before to confirm all arrangements. If Pak does not fix date, Woodward should suggest Pak call next meeting when he has firm date to propose.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 33–6 KOR N–US. Secret; Immediate;Nodis; Cactus. Drafted by Leonard; cleared by Meeker, Steadman, Ambassador Brown, Brown (S/S), and in draft by Armstrong (EA/P); and approved by Katzenbach.
  2. The Embassy noted that Woodward’s instructions failed to mention where he should put his signature. Although the North Korean document included a signature block, the Embassy assumed and the Department of State confirmed that Woodward should sign under it. The Department of State also noted that “best of all would be to write diagonally across face of NK document.” (Telegrams 10316 from Seoul and 252348 to Seoul, both October 9; both ibid.)