134. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Dr. Pyung Chong Hahm, International Affairs Advisor to President Pak Chong-hui
  • Mr. Sang Ock Lee, Counselor, Embassy of Korea
  • Mr. John H. Holdridge, Senior Staff Member NSC


  • Dr. Hahm’s Remarks on U.S.-Korean Relations2

Dr. Hahm began by referring to the question of the two ROK divisions in Vietnam. Although President Pak had accepted the need for keeping these divisions in Vietnam until at least the end of 1972 and perhaps into 1973, “some of his advisors” were concerned over the problem that this might create for the ROK in the UN next fall. Possibly the PRC might be more inclined because of the presence of these divisions in Vietnam to raise the Korean item in the UN General Assembly. In addition, there seemed to be criticism on the part of the American public and press with respect to the fact that the two divisions are staying on.

Dr. Hahm wondered, wouldn’t it be possible, therefore, to make a token withdrawal of Korean forces from Vietnam starting this summer? Only enough troops would be withdrawn to suggest that the process had begun and certainly not enough to affect the military situation. What did Mr. Holdridge think of this?

Mr. Holdridge first ascertained that Dr. Hahm was, in fact, one of the advisors to President Pak who had raised this issue. He went on to state that he was in no position to do anything other than to pass along Dr. Hahm’s remarks; however, it looked very much as if the Communist attacks in Vietnam might continue through the summer, and it would create an extremely unfortunate impression if the ROK began even a token withdrawal at this time. In addition, the two ROK divisions were playing a very important part in establishing the military balance in Vietnam, and it was imperative that they be kept on. In the [Page 333] present situation, for example, one of the ROK divisions was helping to open Route 19 and was performing a very important function. It was precisely for this reason that we had asked the ROK Government to keep the divisions on.

Mr. Holdridge remarked that, as far as the attitude of the American people and press was concerned, he personally was not aware of any particular American criticism over the presence of the ROK troops. Even papers such as the Washington Post and the New York Times had not brought up this matter for months. It was possible that there would be those among American academic circles who would be critical, but certainly this would not reflect the attitude of the American people as a whole. The average American, if he knew about the ROK participation in Vietnam at all, would probably say that this was a good thing.

Mr. Holdridge doubted that the question of the ROK troops in Vietnam would affect one way or another the PRC attitude on the Korean item in the UN General Assembly. The Chinese would in all probability make their decision as to what position they would take on the basis of a long-range calculation of their national interest, to which the issue of the ROK troops was peripheral.

Dr. Hahm mentioned that there seemed to be criticism of the ROK from some American groups, particularly academics, over what appeared to be lack of ROK responsiveness to North Korean peace overtures. The problem for the ROK, Dr. Hahm explained, was that it would be very difficult for President Pak to say anything which suggested acceptance of two Koreas. The 1948 Korean Constitution, in fact, was drawn up in such a way as to conceive of only one Korea, and Korean nationalistic sentiment on this point was very strong. Inherent in North Korea’s approach, though, was a definite two Koreas implication—the North, for example, called for a peace treaty between the North and the South which could only be negotiated between two sovereign powers. Americans didn’t seem to understand this situation, or the difficult position into which President Pak was put by their criticism.

Dr. Hahm stated that there was nevertheless one condition under which two Koreas would be acceptable: if North Korea offered to renounce the use of force against the ROK. Under such circumstances, a two Koreas situation condition could be justified as an interim step pending final reunification at some point later on.

In connection with the two Koreas question, Dr. Hahm said that the UN presence in Korea had been helpful for a long time in maintaining the one Korea concept. Since 1948, the UNCURK (United Nations Commission for the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea) had personified this concept. Under present circumstances, though, conditions were no longer the same. (Note: He did not elaborate, but appeared to be indicating some degree of willingness to consider some revision in the UN role.)

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Mr. Holdridge emphasized that if there was any criticism about President Pak’s position, it was not from the Administration. We understood President Pak’s sensitivities and certainly would not do anything to interfere with his judgement as to what course his country should take. The U.S.–PRC Joint Communiqué had in fact made it very plain that we would not get out in front of the ROK, but rather would support South Korean initiatives directed toward a relaxation of tension in the Korean peninsula.

Dr. Hahm reported that a number of American journalists had apparently received invitations to visit Pyongyang for the 60th birthday of Kim Il-sung. Included among these had been Harrison Salisbury and Selig Harrison.3 Both had said that they were going, but now the invitations had apparently been withdrawan as a result of the stepped up fighting in Vietnam. North Korea evidentally felt it undesirable to have Americans present in Pyongyang at this particular time. But a number of Americans were still interested in going, e.g., the Dean of the Emory Law School and an American-Korean professor at Bridgeport University. Dr. Hahm added that he had heard there was also some possibility of North Koreans coming to the U.S. in the guise of members of the UN PRC delegation.

Mr. Holdridge commented that he had not known of the travel of Harrison Salisbury or Selig Harrison to North Korea. The fact of the matter was that we would find it very difficult to prevent such travel, and the publicity if we tried to do so would be very adverse. We would not encourage travel of Americans to North Korea, though. As for the North Koreans coming to the U.S. as members of the Chinese delegation, this did not appear very likely since the Chinese to date had been very scrupulous in their relations with us. It would be far more likely for the Chinese to propose that North Koreans come via a UN invitation for them to attend the UNGA session which would contain no conditions. Such would almost surely be the case if the Chinese brought up the Korean issue next fall.

Dr. Hahm said that there was still a possibility for contacts between the North Koreans and private Americans, at least. Under these circumstances, the U.S. should do what it could to help the ROK make contacts with both the PRC and the USSR. This would be most desirable prior to the visit of Americans to North Korea in any significant numbers. Speaking frankly, the ROK had already asked France to act as an intermediary between it and both the PRC and the USSR, and the French had agreed on the proviso that this be kept strictly confidential. But perhaps the U.S. might also be able to render assistance in some way.

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Mr. Holdridge said that he did not offhand know how the U.S. might be helpful, but if the ROK came to us with any suggestions, we would certainly want to give these due consideration.

Dr. Hahm said that the various points he had raised in the conversation indicated a need for closer contacts between the U.S. and the ROK to make sure that each side knew what the other was thinking and to avoid misunderstandings. By way of further elaboration, he mentioned that as a result of the President’s July 15, 1971 announcement of his intended China visit, followed by the textile issue, and then by the cut in U.S. military assistance to Korea, President Pak had begun to worry about the state of basic U.S.–ROK relations. Marshall Green’s visit had reassured him greatly, but more continuous high-level contact would still be desirable. In the impending visit of Kim Yong-shik Mr. Kim would of course be seeing certain higher level U.S. officials, but what was really needed was a brief meeting between President Nixon and President Pak. This need not be long—perhaps only 45 minutes—but the contact itself would be the important thing. Mr. Holdridge did not comment.

Dr. Hahm concluded the conversation by expressing the hope that Americans would continue to invest in Korean economic development. This was desirable both in terms of assisting in the expansion of the ROK economy and to prevent Japanese investments from dominating the economic scene. The Japanese were becoming increasingly hard to deal with, e.g., when the Koreans raised objections to Japanese terms for investment, the Japanese would cite Chou En-lai’s “4 points” and threaten to pull out entirely in favor of dealing with the PRC instead. Mr. Holdridge agreed with the desirability of continued American investment in Korea.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1305, NSC Secretariat, 1972. Secret. The meeting was held in Holdridge’s office.
  2. Hahm was in the United States to attend the meetings of the Asian Society in New York. On April 13, he met with Green, Ranard, and Wesley Kriebel, Country Officer for Korea. A memorandum of conversation is ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 7 KOR S.
  3. Harrison Salisbury was a New York Times reporter. Selig Harrison was the Northeast Asia Bureau Chief of The Washington Post.