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

5309. Subj: Korean CIA Director’s Views on Red Cross Talks. Summary: ROK CIA Director says Red Cross talks designed (a) to show South Korean people ROKG ready to deal with humanitarian aspects of divided country; (b) demonstrate that South can now deal from position of strength; (c) open North to realities of situation in the South. His attitude reflected confidence, desire for Korea to play more active, positive role in Asian affairs.

ROK CIA Director Lee Hu Rak asked me at lunch if the reaction of the US Government towards the Red Cross talks at Panmunjom was favorable.2 I said that he had undoubtedly seen press reports of the Department’s spokesman’s comments welcoming the talks. I added that the Korean initiative was probably also seen as evidence of ROK maturity and self-confidence.
This observation produced a long and animated exposition of his strategy in getting the talks started now. The first and most obvious aspect, he said, was to respond to growing public pressure for some kind of contact with the North. The Korean people felt that their government had been an obstacle to the establishment of contacts. It was necessary to demonstrate that this was not so and to relieve the pressure by carefully controlled and regulated interchanges. He saw no prospect, however, that the talks would lead to unification. The ideological differences, he was convinced, were too strong to be overcome.
The second and less obvious aspect of his strategy was related, he said, to my comment on self-confidence. During his time as Ambassador to Japan and in his first months in office as CIA Director he [Page 269]said he had made a thorough study of North Korea and had reached the conclusion that in every significant field of comparison the South had passed the North and with each successive year would be building up an irreversible lead. A physical and psychological barrier was in the past necessary, but this was no longer the case. The balance had been tipped. The South, he said, has nothing to fear from peaceful competition, and contacts with the North will have two beneficial effects. They will show our own people that we can deal successfully with the North and secondly it will give us a chance to open the closed minds of our northern compatriots. The North Koreans are the victims of their own propaganda about the South, he continued. They think we are on the verge of economic and political collapse. The agents that we pick up are full of the most preposterous ideas about conditions in the South. Contacts and a flow of information northward will gradually undermine these illusions and bring pressure on the regime.
Comment: Lee’s comments during the two-hour conversation reflected confidence, self-assurance, and initiative. The needless opening formality of the question on the USG reaction to the talks was the only traditional instinctive clutch for the reassuring apron strings. The Nixon Doctrine, our troop reductions, the public response to Kim Tae Jung’s campaign, the announcement of the President’s Peking visit, have all been elements of a broad front pushing politically sensitive and responsive men like Lee and Kim Jong Pil to recognize the changing face of Asia. Lee was saying, almost in so many words, that Korea in the past was compelled by its poverty and backwardness to accept the role of pawn and victim; that Korea today need not do so, and that it can play an active, positive, and to some degree an independent role.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL KOR N–KOR S. Confidential.
  2. In telegram 4729 from Seoul, August 7, Porter reported that Lee Hu Rak had informed him on August 6 that the President of the Korean Red Cross would hold a press conference on August 12 and announce a South Korean initiative for talks with North Korea on the subject of divided families. Porter reported that he had agreed that this initiative would have a good effect both at home and abroad but asked how they intended to get around ROK anti-Communist laws. Porter added that he found it interesting that only the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Justice had been sketchily informed and that he had assured Lee that his information would also be closely held by the U.S. Government. (Ibid.)