110. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Kim Yong-sik, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea
  • Kim Dong Jo, Korean Ambassador to the U.S.
  • Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • John H. Holdridge, Senior Staff Member NSC


  • Foreign Minister Kim’s Remarks on the Korean Question in the UN, the President’s China Initiative, and Textiles

After expressing appreciation to Dr. Kissinger for Dr. Kissinger’s taking the time to see him, Foreign Minister Kim remarked that he had come to the United States to observe the debate on the Korean question in the United Nations. This question, which had come up every year since the Korean War, involved three items: the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Korea, the dissolution of UNCURK (the United Nations Commission on the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea), and the solution of the Korean question by the Korean peoples themselves without outside interference. (Note: This resolution has been traditionally put forward by the Communists in the United Nations.) This year, the United Kingdom had put forward a resolution calling for the deferral of discussions on the Korean question until the next session of the UN. This resolution had been successful, the vote having been 68 to 20, which was a “happy outcome.” Dr. Kissinger expressed interest in Foreign Minister Kim’s remarks, and observed that he hoped we would do as well on the Chirep question.

Foreign Minister Kim went on to say that the ROK was working together with other Asian countries to bring about cooperation on matters of regional concern. For example, it had originated the ASPAC concept, and in fact there had been an ASPAC conference going on in Manila involving nine Asian powers when the announcement was made of Dr. Kissinger’s trip to Peking. This had been on the last day of the conference in Manila. At that time, Foreign Minister Kim said, he had made a statement welcoming the President’s forthcoming trip to Peking and expressing the hope that as a result tension might be eased. This was the ROK view.

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Continuing, Foreign Minister Kim stated that after he had returned to Seoul, Assemblymen had asked him for an elaboration of his views, and had raised the question of whether Korean interests might be adversely affected by this change in the relationship between Communist China and Washington, the capital of the free world. He had then repeated what he had said in Manila about welcoming the President’s visit and hoping that tension would be eased. However, in his mind he had this thing—hostilities between North and South Korea had been suspended for 17 years, and the ROK hadn’t done anything against the North; there had been no invasion by the ROKs of the North. On the other hand, the North had done many things, for example the Pueblo incident and the Blue House raid, and had received some support for these efforts from the Soviets and the Chinese. Foreign Minister Kim cited an incident which had occurred the day he left Seoul in which four infiltrators had been sent against Kimpo Airport. This had been the first such incident since the Korean War. At the same time, North Korea was receiving large amounts of grant military assistance from the Soviets and the Chinese Communists, which was alarming.

So what he wanted to ask Dr. Kissinger, Foreign Minister Kim declared, was whether there was still a strong U.S. determination to defend the ROK. He indicated concern over the possibility that the Communists might increase pressure against the ROK, which was working hard to take care of its growing population but still had to pay attention to North Korea’s attitude and the actions of North Korean infiltrators. The ROK had kept more than 300,000 boys in the trenches for 17 years, and wanted a release of tension. This could be obtained if North Korea was not supported by China and the Soviets.

Foreign Minister Kim said that a second point which he wanted to bring up was the Mutual Defense Treaty which the ROK had entered into with John Foster Dulles. The Treaty should be maintained under any circumstances, and with assurance of this the ROK could continue its efforts to provide for the welfare of its people. But Chou En-lai had spoken to Western reporters about the U.S. getting out of Korea and the abrogation of the USROK Mutual Defense Treaty.

In response, Dr. Kissinger said that he wanted to make this general observation: Chou En-lai could say anything he wanted to and express his hopes as to what might happen in Korea, but we had no obligation to carry these hopes out. We had no intention of giving up the Mutual Defense Treaty, and no intention of negotiating about Korea with Chou En-lai. Chou could state his position if he wanted to, but Korea would not be the subject of negotiations between the Chinese and ourselves. We didn’t want such a situation, and there was also the question of what the quid pro quo would be. Why should we barter about our friends with someone who was still our enemy? We were not going to gain the so-called good will of China by bargaining about [Page 283]our friends. We couldn’t keep Chou En-lai from saying that he wanted withdrawal of U.S. troops, but that was his problem, not ours. Chou En-lai knew that our defense commitment remained in full force.

Foreign Minister Kim said that he was glad to hear these words from Dr. Kissinger. Had Dr. Kissinger made this position clear to Chou En-lai? Dr. Kissinger replied that he had had no occasion to do so. The subject had not come up, but he had made clear to Chou that all our commitments would be maintained. He had not, however, wanted to encourage the Chinese to think that they could discuss matters such as U.S. relations with the ROK with him. Did the Foreign Minister see what he meant? Foreign Minister Kim asserted that he did, of course, see. Dr. Kissinger expressed the opinion that Chou En-lai may have had problems with the North Koreans, and so might have been obliged to say things for the record which would please the Prime Minister of North Korea.

Dr. Kissinger observed that as far as South Korea was concerned, we were going ahead with our modernization program for the ROK forces, and had no plans to make cuts in our own forces through FY 73. This would get us into the middle of 1973, and into the next administration. Dr. Kissinger explained that he didn’t mean to imply there would be reductions in the U.S. forces after July 1973; this was a matter which simply had not been considered at the present time. But from now to July 1973 we had every intention of keeping our forces in Korea. He could speak with complete authority until then, and with good authority thereafter. Basically, there was nothing which Foreign Minister Kim needed to be worried about.

Foreign Minister Kim thanked Dr. Kissinger for these assurances. he knew that Dr. Kissinger had been in Peking, and could speak with authority. But where Japan was in a relatively good position with respect to China, Korea was still a developing country with a long way to go before it attained a strong economy. He tended to agree with Japanese leaders with whom he had talked that China was not in good condition, and its industry was not so big, but China was a “big kingdom” and abrasive in its relations with other countries. However, he was convinced that if “we” (i.e., the U.S. and the ROK) showed determination, we could enjoy a peaceful situation. Dr. Kissinger emphasized that we, too, wanted a more peaceful situation, but we were not going to bargain about our allies.

Foreign Minister Kim then referred to the textile issue as something else which he wanted to bring up. One-quarter of the total ROK budget was spent on defense, and Korea’s financial situation was very different from that of Japan. Korea depended extremely heavily on exports for its income, but now had heard from Secretary Stans that if by October 1 no agreement had been reached with the U.S. on Korean textile exports, then the U.S. would take unilateral action on October 15 [Page 284]to set quotas. The Koreans wanted to continue the talks with the U.S. and get agreement, but Mr. Stans’attitude was very negative.

Dr. Kissinger commented that the textile question was one which made people mad. It was very complex, and he did his best to stay out of it. However, the trouble was that the President was under enormous political pressure on the textile issue, and if he didn’t produce something, people—particularly those on the Hill—would say “how can you spend all that money for Korean defense?” This was irrational, since it was in our own interests to build up the ROK defenses, but Foreign Minister Kim should know what the situation was. Our biggest problem on textiles was with Japan, but we were trying to work out an agreement. He would see what could be done, though, about Korea.

Foreign Minister Kim noted that developing countries had a great many problems. Things were easier for Japan (even for Foreign Minister Fukuda), since Japan was a developed country. He expressed the hope that a conclusion could be reached in the textile issue through talks, and not just by means of a unilateral U.S. announcement. Dr. Kissinger remarked he had to say that if no agreement was reached, then there would be unilateral action. This was a fact of life. Foreign Minister Kim responded to the effect that the ROK Minister of Commerce had to report to the Cabinet on his conversations with Ambassador Kennedy, and a little time would be needed to find a solution. The Government would need to find a way to bring the businessmen along. He asked Dr. Kissinger if it would be possible to get this additional time. Dr. Kissinger said he would see if it might be possible to get an extension and a resumption of negotiations. Ambassador Kennedy had delivered a sort of ultimatum in mentioning unilateral measures as of October 15. It had been our understanding last August that Ambassador Kennedy would go back in September, but he suddenly said there would be no more negotiations and that the Koreans had either to accept or not accept our position.2

Ambassador Kim Dong Jo remarked that the Koreans had spoken to Ambassador Kennedy about giving them more time, and he had said he would try to do so. Ambassador Kim and Foreign Minister Kim jointly explained to Dr. Kissinger that Ambassador Kennedy had offered a 7% annual growth rate for Korean textile exports to the U.S. if the Koreans accepted the U.S. position by October 1; otherwise the annual growth rate would be limited to 3%. However, much of what would have been included within the 7% growth rate had already been shipped to the U.S. market, and if the Koreans had to stay within the 3% limit they would have nothing to ship at all. In response to a question from Dr. Kissinger, they clarified the fact that acceptance of the U.S. position would give them a bigger rate of increase.

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Dr. Kissinger stated that he had stayed out of the textile issue and had turned it over to Mr. Peterson. He felt that it was punishment enough for him to have to deal with the North Vietnamese. Foreign Minister Kim reiterated his belief that it would be best to find a solution through talks, and Dr. Kissinger responded that he would do what he could.

In conclusion, Foreign Minister Kim asked Dr. Kissinger when the President was going to Peking. He wanted to know this because Korea was very near to China. Dr. Kissinger replied that no date had been set as yet. Foreign Minister Kim again referred to Seoul not being very far from Peking (probably indicating an interest in the President visiting Seoul as well).

As Foreign Minister Kim and Ambassador Kim left Dr. Kissinger’s office, Ambassador Kim remarked in passing that a former student of Dr. Kissinger’s—Kim Chong-pil—was now in an influential position in Korea, having become Prime Minister, and might want to visit Washington in this capacity. Dr. Kissinger said that if he did so he would be welcome.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 542, Country Files, Far East, Korea, Vol. IV, 1 Jan–31 Dec 1971. Secret. The meeting was held in Kissinger’s office. On October 1, Holdridge forwarded the memorandum to Kissinger, who initialed his approval.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 112.