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

189689. Subject: ROK Ambassador’s Call on Under Secretary Johnson.

Upon instructions Ambassador Kim Dong Jo requested an appointment October 16 with Under Secretary Johnson for the morning of October 17. Subsequently the Secretary called Ambassador Kim to the Department at 5:30 p.m. October 162 but Kim still made his presentation to Under Secretary Johnson on October 17 at 8:45 a.m. Assistant Secretary Green was present.
Ambassador Kim said he had talked to CIA Director Yi Hu Rak twice the previous evening to convey the concern of President Nixon as expressed by the Secretary and had requested that the offensive portions of the proclamation be removed. He noted that the proclamation [Page 421] had been modified.3 During the course of the conversation he made the following points:
References to the “great powers” in the proclamation were not directed at the U.S., but were a warning to the Korean people to remind them that their historic experience had been one of having been sacrificed to the interests of the great powers.
The measures taken by the Korean Government were intended to further the process of peaceful unification.
While martial law would be difficult for the US to accept there was to be a national referendum. The intention of the Korean Government was not to establish a dictatorship but to provide for more efficient government. The basic posture of the Korean Government was democratic and the US should judge Korea by the results of the national referendum.
He assured the Under Secretary that analogies with 1961 were not appropriate, that the period of martial law was definitely limited to the time required to implement the constitutional amendment.
Kim repeated the request he had made to the Secretary the previous day that he hoped the US would not in its public statements say anything which would disturb US-Korean relations.
Kim’s composure slipped only once when, in response to questioning about the future of representative government in Korea, he said that he was not a politician, that he was conveying the instructions of his government, and that he had done his best to ameliorate the government’s decision.
Under Secretary Johnson made a strong “more in sorrow than in anger” representation to Kim. He said the proclamation, even with the changes, remained unsatisfactory and that he could only interpret it—and the President would so interpret it—as a direct criticism of US policy in Asia. He said he was shocked by the ROKG decision and that he and all those in the US Government who had been closely associated with Korea were deeply disappointed. While it was not for the US to tell Korea how to run its affairs, he was apprehensive over the future [Page 422] and sorry for Korea. He noted that questions would be asked about what practical difference there now was between the governments in the South and the North. He added that Korea had been an example of representative government in Asia. The steps the government took in implementing its decisions would be important. He hoped the ROKG would reexamine its present plans. He reminded Kim that President Rhee had tightened controls on the Korean people until there had been an explosion and he was fearful that history was repeating itself.
Johnson warned that it would be impossible for the USG to keep silent in response to press questions and that, while we did not wish to complicate matters for the Korean Government, we could not associate ourselves with the decision or give any indication that we approved it or considered it justified. He reiterated to Kim that we could not understand how the Korean Government could base its drastic internal actions on a presentation of external events that was not justified and was counter to the position the Korean Government itself had taken.
Assistant Secretary Green noted that there would be no political opposition permitted [prior] to the referendum. He underlined the views of the [Under] Secretary and made these additional points.
The Korean success story had projected to the US public a favorable picture of US Asian policy which was helpful in countering neo-isolationist trends in the US. The ROKG action now cast doubt on this policy.
The supplemental military assistance bill in 1970 for Korea had had no opposition in the Congress, in part because of Korea’s favorable image. Now Congressional support would be more difficult to obtain.
His primary concern was reaction in Korea. Colleges were to be closed. Korea possessed a sophisticated intellectual element and, while the government might have no internal problems in the beginning, we were apprehensive about the reaction over the longer term.
The implementation of the government’s decision would be watched by the press here and they would watch in particular for arrests of political leaders or other evidence of repression. He noted that during the days of the military government the Cabinet had been jailed and he hoped there would be none of this kind of activity. We were not reassured by the Ambassador’s statement to the contrary, nor by the information we had received from our Ambassador in Seoul.
Green reminded Kim that he had called on President Park and the Prime Minister twice since March and that he had had no impression of their undue concern over developments in East Asia, and reiterated that only recently the Foreign Minister had unequivocally stated the government’s support for US Government policy.
Under Secretary Johnson referred to that portion of the President’s proclamation which stated that the referendum would be a vote [Page 423] of confidence in the government’s approach to North Korea. According to the statement, if the referendum were rejected, he would take a new approach to reunification. Johnson said he was confused as to what that meant. He thought it sounded ominously like Rhee’s statements about a march North, but he could not believe this was so. Ambassador Kim said he was unable to clarify the statement.4
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 543, Country Files, Far East, Korea, Vol. V, 1 Jan–31 Dec 1972. Confidential; Immediate; Exdis. Drafted by Kriebel on October 17; cleared by Green, Ranard, Sneider, and in S/S; and approved by Johnson.
  2. See Document 161.
  3. In telegram 5988 from Seoul, October 17, Habib reported that the Prime Minister’s private secretary had delivered a revised version of the presidential declaration. Habib also reported that, upon questioning Han Sang-Kuk, he had found that Prime Minister Kim was opposed to the martial law declaration and that he had considered resigning over the issues involved. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 15 KOR S) In a memorandum to Kissinger, dated October 30, Helms reported similar information that Kim Jong Pil “had urged President Pak Chong-hui not to declare martial law until after the U.S. elections.” According to Kim the “primary reason” for President Park’s drive to complete his plan before the end of the year was his belief that “the U.S. is ‘selling out’ the Thieu government.” (Central Intelligence Agency, Executive Registry DCI Files, Job 80–B01086A, Subject Files, Box 12 of 16, Korea)
  4. In telegram 6115 from Seoul, October 23, Habib summarized a conversation with Kim Jong Pil: “Prime Minister confirmed to Ambassador constitutional changes he had earlier described. Referendum would be conducted without political debate, and held probably on Nov. 21 despite presence of North Korean Red Cross delegation. Ambassador restated our dissociation with move and our belief it was unnecessary.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 543, Country Files, Far East, Korea, Vol. V, 1 Jan–31 Dec 72)