358. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Current Korean Problems


  • Tong Won Lee, Foreign Minister of Korea
  • Hyun Chul Kim, Ambassador of Korea
  • Sang Moon Chang, Europe-America Bureau Director, Korean Foreign Office
  • The Secretary
  • William P. Bundy, Assistant Secretary for Far Eastern Affairs
  • Winthrop G. Brown, Ambassador to Korea
  • Marshall Green, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Far Eastern Affairs
  • Robert A. Fearey, Director for East Asian Affairs

After an exchange of greetings, the Secretary said that he had been looking forward to a discussion of a number of problems with Foreign Minister Lee. He invited the Foreign Minister to lead off.

[Here follows discussion of Vietnam.]

Korea-Japan Settlement

The Secretary congratulated Foreign Minister Lee on the progress of the discussions with Japan. Initialling of the Basic Relations Treaty had been a very important step. He hoped that Korea and Japan were close to a final settlement. The U.S. had been very strongly interested in a settlement for some years. Delay itself was costly.

Foreign Minister Lee said that recently there had been very satisfactory developments, though the US might be of assistance in producing a satisfactory and speedy result. Mr. Bundy had been of great assistance during his visits to Korea and Japan last fall. Ambassador Brown had also been doing very effective work behind the scenes. The Basic Relations Treaty concluded a few weeks ago dealt with the most fundamental and important issues, which were now settled. A few minor issues, such as fisheries, the status of Korean residents in Japan, and economic cooperation and trade relations still remained. The Korean Government was negotiating with Japan for a quick settlement of all these issues.

The Foreign Minister said that he planned to stop in Tokyo for three days on his way back to Korea, when he would try to bring an end to the long-drawn-out negotiations and sign an agreement. He had told this to Prime Minister Sato and Foreign Minister Shiina. (The [Page 786] Foreign Minister interjected that Prime Minister Sato had asked him to convey his personal greetings to the Secretary.) Sato had said that Korea should make concessions on the fisheries question. The Foreign Minister said that he had told Sato that fisheries were a little matter and that making small concessions in such a little matter should present little difficulty for Japan. In Korea, however, the issue meant a lot, emotionally and politically. It was Japan’s fault that this was so, because of its actions of the past half century. The Foreign Minister said he told Sato that Korea needs not just normal relations with Japan but good relations. Conclusion of the negotiations was very important, but it was even more important that the treaty be accepted by the Korean people. Korea did not want a treaty that caused instability and which might shake the foundations of the Park Government. The Korean people were very emotional on the subject of Japan; Japan should take this fact into account.

The Foreign Minister said that Foreign Minister Shiina had said that maybe it was still too early for a settlement. Foreign Minister Lee said he had replied that Korea and Japan had been talking for the past 14 years and had no more to say. If Japan was prepared to proceed in a spirit of concessions the agreement could be concluded in two hours and signed in half a minute. Shiina nevertheless continued to express doubt that a settlement could be achieved so soon.

The Secretary asked when Foreign Minister Lee planned to return to Tokyo. The Foreign Minister replied that he would arrive there March 23. He had told Sato and Shiina that they should bring a pistol and kill him if a settlement were not achieved—his loss of face would be so great he could not return to Korea. The Secretary demurred, saying that this would set a dangerous precedent among Foreign Ministers. The Foreign Minister said he was sure the Japanese would try very hard to reach agreement. Now was the best time, the golden opportunity.

The Secretary observed that strong propaganda had been coming out of Pyongyang and Peiping against a settlement. He asked what influence this propaganda had in the Republic of Korea. The Foreign Minister replied that it had none. He said that when Shiina was recently in Korea there were no big demonstrations but that when he (Lee) was recently in Japan there had been demonstrations wherever he went. The demonstrations in Japan were by Communists, directed from Peiping. In Korea, on the other hand, the demonstrations were of a nationalistic nature growing out of Korea’s past humiliating experience with Japan. The two should not be confused. The opportune time for a settlement had arrived in Korea. The Park regime is very stable and in a good position, and the people are enlightened on the question of a settlement with Japan, understanding the necessity for good relations with Japan. They appreciate the economic benefits which such a settlement [Page 787] would bring Korea. The atmosphere is good and it is most important that the existing momentum not be lost.

The Secretary asked whether Foreign Minister Lee’s initialling of the Basic Relations Treaty had caused an adverse reaction in Korea. The Foreign Minister said that it had not, because the treaty was acceptable to the Korean public. He said that the Korean people were poor but well educated; they were enlightened enough to have sound judgment on certain things.2

The Foreign Minister went on to say that a couple of words in Foreign Minister Shiina’s arrival statement had helped a good deal. Shiina had said that he was sorry for the past and looked to a new and different future. Shiina was the first Japanese ever to say that, and his statement had had a most helpful effect. It was most important that solutions of remaining issues be acceptable to the Korean people; otherwise the whole purpose of the settlement would be defeated. Korea did not ask that the U.S. apply pressure to Japan—he knew that we could not do that—but he did hope that we would talk frankly with the Japanese. This would be much appreciated by the Korean Government.

The Secretary said that he would take note of the Foreign Minister’s comments. He observed that we had been talking to the Japanese concerning a settlement during the four years that he had been Secretary, and before that time.

[Here follows discussion of unrelated topics.]

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 2 KOR S. Confidential. Drafted by Fearey and approved in S on March 22.
  2. The Embassy had reported, however, that “opposition parties [were] pursuing relentlessly within and without National Assembly a series of actions designed to bring about cessation ROK-Japan negotiations.” (Telegram 855 from Seoul, March 10; ibid., POL JAPAN–KOR S)