59. Telegram From the Embassy in Korea to the Department of State1

2772. For Ambassador Brown. Ref: A. State 081354;2 B. Seoul 2733;3 State 082520.4

President Park received me at 11:15 hours local today. Conversation lasted one hour and half. We were alone, at my request (except for interpreter).
He assented to my offer to read President Nixon’s letter of May 26.5 After reading, Park asked me if it did not say what had been said before. I replied that it was essentially carefully considered reply to points he had raised and in my view we should work together in cooperative and forward-looking fashion. Park said that as far as proposals for strengthening ROK forces is concerned we can start to develop them any time, but he must know amount of program before he can judge whether he can take lead as we desire. Until he knows nature and extent of modernization he cannot agree to any withdrawals.
I said we understand his natural desire to know dimensions of what we can do. On other hand, we are asking him to support our approach to Congress and to his people so that we can get things under way and develop a program. Park replied we must understand his position. If he agreed to take initiative before knowing how much, when, etc., his people would ask him those questions and he could not answer. If he could say only vaguely that there would be adequate program and troops were being withdrawn, Korean people would feel unsafe and his position would be difficult. A year ago, Koreans had submitted program proposal.6 If that had been accepted it would now be possible to consider whether time frame for withdrawal could be changed from 1975 to earlier date. That program should be reviewed. From his point of view there are too many unknowns. It was not necessary to talk about amount of money involved as equipment is important aspect. He cannot take initiative on present basis. In his letter he had asked reconsideration of withdrawal until 1975, and if Korean program mentioned in his letter of April 1969 to President Nixon could be approved he could then consider changing date when some U.S. troops might depart.
I said we were both talking about substantial programs which over five-year period might cost billion dollars or more. He was right to say we should not be talking amounts of money but rather types and amount of material involved. We want to get down to real discussions with his people to determine exactly what is involved. It would first be necessary to brief Congress to get acceptance in principle for modernization program and if Park would assist by taking lead in suggesting some of our troops could leave it would, as letter pointed out, greatly add to Korea’s image before Congress and American people generally.
Park said we should sit down with Koreans and develop program before going to Congress. If we would do that it might be possible for troops to leave before 1975 (sic). I replied it seemed necessary to us to get principle accepted first by Congressional leadership rather than go and give them very large program on platter and say that’s it. It was best to leave to us procedures and psychological aspects of handling things in U.S. I continued that in view of his references to fact that his date for departure, 1975, might be subject to change and that troops “might leave” before then, I would like to clarify point. We were asking his support with Korean public and U.S. Congress for idea that some troops might leave in view of fact that substantial modernization program was envisaged. We were not asking permission for troops to [Page 156] leave, as there was no requirement on us in that sense. We were required to consult with him and that is what we are doing. Park said he understood that his agreement, or concurrence, is required before we can withdraw troops. I replied that obviously we could not and did not give even government as friendly as that of Korea control over movement of our troops, and that as there seemed to be some misunderstanding on that point it was just as well that it came up now. Consultation is required of us, but that is different matter, I said. (This part of conversation was, like rest, in even tones.)
I continued by saying we were faced with practical problem as to how to reply if and when congressional leadership inquired as to President Park’s attitude toward withdrawal of American troops. I suggested that in view of importance of giving Congress right impression, it would be appropriate for President Park to authorize statement to be used as necessary along these lines: “When President Park knows there will be an adequate modernization program and knows its dimensions he will be able to reassure his people in those circumstances that some American troops can be withdrawn.” Some such statement would be helpful to some degree even though it not as forthcoming as we would desire. After congressional approval in principle obtained, we could try to develop in detail substantial program which had been proposed to him. Park asked whether such statement would be made publicly or privately. I said that during initial period we would try to handle it as he desired. He reflected for few moments and said he didn’t want to authorize anything, but we could use sense of his views which was along lines of above-quoted suggestion. I said this purely my own suggestion and I could not say whether it would appear useful in Washington.
I said there was another point I wished to go over. Modernization program is result of USG desire to reassure ROKG and people of our continuing concern for their safety, even though we are withdrawing some troops. Program and withdrawal are therefore related but are not dependent one on the other. We wish to see program get underway when and as we withdraw, but each will have its own pace. Park did not respond to this aspect of things.
President then reviewed many of his earlier remarks on subject of need for American patience. It was true there had been improvement in military field, but that was true of enemy also. In economic field, work had barely been started and average national income is still only $200 per year. ROKs are carrying great national defense burden but by 1975 they hope to assume all of that burden over annual American MAP contribution of $150 million. On point of withdrawal Park thought that perhaps this does not seem as serious in United States as it does in Korea. At this critical moment Koreans hope for more U.S. patience.
I commented that these factors had been given our most careful attention as my President’s letter indicated. We are not contemplating anything so drastic that it would undermine confidence of ROK people. We are extremely mindful of proceeding in manner which will make it clear to them that powerful force will remain and that basic commitment is unchanged.
President Park then asked if our people could commence talks on modernization program. I replied that I thought Washington would wish to contact congressional leadership first, which would be done very soon. We could and would however make gesture at this time, which was to open talks on M–16 factory. Park said he was informed I was sitting on letter from Mr. Packard and asked why I had not delivered it. I said I did not have letter, but Mr. Packard would send one on subject shortly.7 Park asked if M–16 would be considered part of modernization program. I replied that inevitably it must be so considered, though it would be handled somewhat differently from other parts of that program. He then inquired whether we would build M–16 factory if he maintained his opposition to troop withdrawals. I replied neither M–16 nor any other project would be made easier, especially with Congress, by his opposition.
He then said I had urged this matter be closely held but he was disturbed to hear this morning statements made by high-level American officials to effect American troops would be leaving Korea. What was explanation, he asked. I said I thought our officials, like some of his own, were reacting to pressures from Congress, Assembly and press. Comments on our side were no doubt intended to hold down pressures in U.S., while his Ministers were also commenting in manner calculated to do same thing here. I then read State/DOD response to inquiries on subject as related State 082211.8
President then asked again when our people could get together to discuss modernization. I replied I thought right after congressional leadership is briefed, but I would seek further comment from Washington. In meantime, there was M–16 and perhaps one or two other matters on which, as part of overall program, discussions could commence.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 541, Country Files, Far East, Korea, Vol. II, 10/69–5/70. Top Secret; Immediate;Nodis.
  2. Dated May 27, it instructed Porter to inform Park about the M–16 and other defense matters. (Ibid.)
  3. Dated May 28, in it Porter wrote that he would suggest to Park that the Minister of Defense meet with General Michaelis about the M–16 and related issues. Porter also wrote that he would inform Park that Packard’s letter on the subject was coming. (Ibid.)
  4. Dated May 28, it informed Porter that a letter concerning the M–16 from Packard to the Korean Minister of Defense was being pouched. (Ibid.)
  5. Document 58.
  6. See footnote 2, Document 21.
  7. Presumably a reference to telegram 82520 to Seoul.
  8. Telegram 82211 to Seoul, May 28, provided the suggested responses for Porter. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 541, Country Files, Far East, Korea, Vol. II, 10/69–5/70)