5. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Prime Minister Chung Il Kwon of Korea
- Lee Hurak, Secretary General of Korea
- Ambassador Kim Dong-jo of Korea
- The President
- Winthrop G. Brown, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
- Richard L. Sneider, Senior Staff Member, NSC
After discussing General Eisenhower’s deep interest in Korea, Chung passed personal greetings to the President from President Pak. The President expressed admiration for Korea’s economic development and the contribution of its forces in Vietnam.
In response to the President’s question about the current developments in Korea, Chung launched into an extended discourse on Korea’s needs. He began by describing the militant and threatening attitude of the North Korean regime and their efforts to infiltrate and stir up trouble in South Korea. He explained that Kim Il-sung’s objective was to provoke dissidence in the South and try to set up centers of Communist subversion there similar to those which existed in South Vietnam. All of this, in the Prime Minister’s mind, is a prelude to major aggression of which the North Koreans were quite capable.
Chung said that basically it is important to avoid a repetition of the mistakes made in 1950, when Secretary Acheson excluded Korea from the areas crucial to forward defense in Asia, thereby encouraging Kim Il-sung and the Russians to launch the Korean War. He suggested four major steps:
- The U.S. should maintain two divisions in Korea and more after the Vietnamese war is over. Some people had interpreted Operation Focus Retina as indicating American intention to withdraw some of its forces from Korea and this was bad. The U.S. military presence was important both militarily and psychologically.
- There must be balanced military power on the Korean peninsula. This means that the South Korean air force and navy which are half the strength of the North Korean forces should be brought up to even balance with the North.
- A combined U.S.-Korean mobile combat force should be formed to help fight in Asia. This action would relieve some of the American burden in Asia.
- The Republic of Korea, if it has enough U.S. support, will be able to handle any guerrilla infiltration from the North to prevent the build-up of a guerrilla base.
In view of Korea’s requirements, Chung hopes that the U.S. will maintain military assistance at least at the current level at $160 million a year, or above.[Page 10]
Chung expressed great concern about Japanese pressure for return of Okinawa. Okinawa is very important to Korean security and the Koreans are not sympathetic with the Japanese desire for reversion. Korea has been providing for Japan’s security while Japan has been growing economically powerful. The Japanese should understand this.
Chung suggested that we should be patient and firm with the Communists and not expect much to develop quickly from the Paris negotiations. He thought we should be prepared to fight for two or three years if necessary in order to avoid another Panmunjom agreement. The surest way to bring the North Vietnamese to a peaceful settlement was to apply the pressure of force. He did have a plan for ending the war quickly. If resumption of bombing in the north is not desired, the port of Haiphong should be blockaded and mined, thus cutting off the preponderance of supplies from the Soviet Union which could not very well be brought overland. The closing of the Haiphong port would hurt the North Vietnamese badly and put pressure on the Russians since the Chinese had cut off rail transportation of arms from the Soviet Union through China. Consideration should also be given to sending forces across the DMZ into North Vietnam. If the Chinese Communists threatened to intervene, the President should write a letter to Mao Tse-tung saying that if they did he would use the nuclear bomb against them. Pressures of this kind, said the Prime Minister, would bring about a settlement very quickly.
The President said we would give very serious consideration to Korean views on its military requirements.
Withdrawal of U.S. Forces
Chung said that it would be political disaster for the Korean Government if the U.S. withdraws its forces and Korea does not do likewise. He stressed the need for close consultation on this question. The President said that we would of course consult closely with Korea on this and other problems of mutual interest.
Just before departing, Chung expressed the hope the President would again visit Korea.2 The President said he hoped to do that some day.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Box 77, Memoranda for the President, Beginning March 30, 1969. Secret; Sensitive. Presumably drafted by Sneider. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting was held at the White House from 12:24 to 12:41 p.m. and Kissinger was also present. (Ibid., White House Central Files) Chung Il Kwon was in Washington to attend the funeral of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who died on March 28.↩
- Nixon visited Korea (as Vice President) November 12–15, 1953. See Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, volume XV, Korea, part 2, pp. 1607–1610, 1615–1616.↩