6. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Call of the Prime Minister of Korea on the Secretary of State


  • His Excellency Chong Il-kwon, Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea
  • His Excellency Dong Jo Kim, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea
  • Honorable Lee Hu-rak, Secretary-General to the President of Korea
  • Mr. Hong Song-chol, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister
  • Honorable Winthrop G. Brown, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
  • Mr. James F. Leonard, Country Director for Korea

The Prime Minister opened the conversation by expressing on behalf of his Government the very great regret which the Korean leaders and the Korean people felt about the passing of General Eisenhower,2 and he and the Secretary had a brief dialogue about General Eisenhower and his relationship to Korea.

Visit of Secretary of State to Seoul

The Prime Minister said that he hoped very much that the Secretary would be able to come to Seoul in the near future, perhaps either just before or just after his visit to Japan for the ministerial talks with the Japanese. The Secretary said that, as he had told Ambassador Kim,3 if it was at all possible he would do so.

Security Problems

The Prime Minister said that he would first like to take up with the Secretary matters of common concern in the security field. He said that Kim Il-song had three years ago shifted North Korean policies from peaceful unification to the use of force to achieve unification. Since that time the North Koreans had been despatching guerrillas to stir up trouble in the South. Fortunately the situation in the ROK was entirely different from that in South Viet-Nam. The North Korean tactics are to establish points and eventually areas of guerrilla activity, but the people of the South do not cooperate with them and the armed forces and [Page 12] police have been able to mop up these guerrilla bands. Last November the North Koreans had made their largest intrusion since the Korean War by putting ashore more than 110 guerrillas on the East Coast. However, an Army division, working together with Home Guard units, had completely cleaned up this infiltration. Why, then, it may be asked, does Kim Il-song continue in this unsuccessful operation? The Prime Minister suggested that Kim Il-song retains the hope of establishing bases, of damaging South Korean industry, of harassing communications lines, and of compelling the ROKG to thin out its defenses along the front. Then, if they are successful in this, the North Koreans will launch a general attack.

This North Korean strategy shows clearly the importance of maintaining United States forces in Korea. These forces, the Prime Minister said, are the key factor in preventing a war from breaking out there. The principal objective of Kim Il-song is in fact to get United States forces out. The Prime Minister said that, although from a strictly military point of view, he could not argue that certain reductions in the United States forces would have a disastrous impact, he did feel that the psychological consequences of any reduction would be most serious. Moreover, any reduction in forces, however small, would be a great encouragement to the North Koreans.

The Secretary asked how many troops the North Koreans had in their Army. The Prime Minister answered that there were some 420,000 regular troops plus more than a million more in militia-type units. The North Korean air force had some 720 aircraft which was more than twice the ROK air force. The Secretary asked about the size of ROK armed forces and the Prime Minister answered that they were now at the level of about 620,000 men. Although this compared favorably with the 500,000 men in the North Korean armed forces, the North Koreans were exceedingly well equipped and thoroughly trained. The ROK Government, therefore, hoped very much that the United States would continue to maintain its two combat divisions in Korea.

The Secretary asked if this was not just about the same level as the Korean forces in Viet-Nam, and the Prime Minister responded that it was. The Secretary said that the American Government appreciates very much what is being achieved by these forces in Viet-Nam. The Prime Minister referred to the tragic experience of 1950, which he connected directly to former Secretary of State Acheson’s comments regarding Korea. He naturally hoped that there would never be any repetition of this tragedy. The Secretary said he quite understood the Prime Minister’s point.

The Prime Minister said that it was absolutely essential to maintain a favorable balance of power in Korea, one where superiority was clearly on our side, so that the North Koreans would not be tempted to launch any general offensive. For this reason, it was most essential [Page 13] to pursue the modernization of ROK forces. The M–1 rifle should be rapidly replaced by the M–16. The problem of spare parts and of ammunition should be effectively solved. The Prime Minister drew attention to the importance of the Homeland Guard units (Homeland Reserve Forces). Some two million men had been enrolled in these units since January 1968 and the United States contribution of M–1 rifles had been very much appreciated. More was needed, however. From North Korean films it was possible to conclude that their militia was heavily armed with anti-aircraft artillery, for example, and not merely light personal weapons. He pointed out that it had required substantial forces from three regular divisions to round up the 31 infiltrators who had attempted to assassinate President Park. More recently, some 27,000 men had been put into the field in order to track down the 110 infiltrators on the East Coast. More and better equipment was needed for the forces who would do these jobs. At present, there were only some thirty rounds of ammunition available for each soldier, which was merely enough for training, but not enough for any action. He said he hoped that, as M–1 rifles and carbines became excess to United States needs, they could be provided free of cost for the ROK reserve units, and he hoped that facilities could be provided so that the ROK could itself turn out the ammunition for these weapons.


The Prime Minister said the second point he would raise was the problem of the United States bases in Okinawa. He was sure this would be discussed by the Secretary during his meetings in Japan and by the Japanese Foreign Minister when he came to Washington. He pointed out that Japan’s security problems, both external and internal, would take a very different shape if the ROK did not occupy the position it did.

Japan and the United States had a mutual defense treaty, but the Japanese did not seem to be clear about who was threatening their security. They are trying to bargain with the United States over Okinawa and fail to realize that their treaty with the United States really benefits not the United States but Japan. Okinawa is connected to the main line of resistance against communist aggression, the line which runs from Korea through Okinawa to Taiwan and beyond. It is therefore very important that the United States not give up its nuclear and other rights on its Okinawa bases. The United States must not allow this gap to develop in the defensive line. The Prime Minister said that eventually it might be possible to build up compensating strength, for example, to build up the ROK Navy, but this sort of thing would take a long time.

The Secretary responded that the United States well understands the Korean attitude on the Okinawa problem. The Japanese, of course, [Page 14] make a plea on this matter which is almost the opposite of the position the Prime Minister had set forth. The United States is nevertheless very conscious of the factors to which the Prime Minister had drawn attention and will have these factors very much in mind during the negotiations with the Japanese.


The Prime Minister said that the Korean Government clearly understands the United States intention with regard to an eventual withdrawal of forces from Viet-Nam. The United States should recognize, however, that the Korean Government also has a problem in this respect. He said that Ambassador Brown would recall very well the very great difficulties which had been faced at the time of the despatch of Korean troops to Viet-Nam. These problems, which centered in the National Assembly, had eventually been overcome through close cooperation between himself and Ambassador Brown, but the Opposition remains very hostile to the Korean involvement in Viet-Nam, and unless United States moves regarding troop withdrawal are closely coordinated with the Korean Government, there could be bad political consequences in Korea. The Secretary said that he was fully aware of this problem. He thought it very likely that the meeting of Troop Contributing Countries (TCC) in Bangkok in May would discuss this matter. He said he thought it had probably always been envisaged that when withdrawal of foreign forces began it would be on some sort of a pro rata basis among the allies.

The Prime Minister said that, with regard to negotiations on Viet-Nam, the only advice his Government had to the United States was to maintain a strong posture. We should occupy the top of the hill and then negotiate. It was important not to be deceived by communist negotiating tactics but to make the necessary extra effort on the ground in Viet-Nam and to be very patient.

The Secretary asked the Prime Minister what sort of reports he had from the Korean commanders in Viet-Nam. The Prime Minister responded that the reports were excellent. He said that morale was high among Korean forces and he felt they were very effective in their pacification operations. He noted smilingly that he thought yellow people could be more effective in this sort of thing than white people.

Economic Cooperation

The Prime Minister said that as his final point he would raise the problem of economic cooperation. President Park had set for the Korean people the goal of economic self-sufficiency. This goal was in sight, but the Korean situation might be likened to a period in which a child is just beginning to stand up and walk. It is most essential at this stage to give encouragement and not to disturb the learning process. The [Page 15] Prime Minister pointed out that this development could also be a great benefit to the United States in providing us with a showcase of the effectiveness of our assistance programs. He pointed out the great problems which were raised for Korea by restrictions on textile imports into the United States.

The Prime Minister noted the hostility with which the Korean people viewed certain activity by the Japanese, who are extremely prosperous, but who seem to be trying to grab for themselves the benefits of—for example—the economic rehabilitation which will be undertaken in Viet-Nam. This sort of thing the Korean people simply do not understand. He therefore would frankly ask from the United States in economic matters, not merely “equal treatment”, but particularly favorable treatment for Korea. If Korean economic growth can be assured for another five years it will be a much more solid situation.

The Secretary responded jokingly that he had been informed Secretary of Commerce Stans would be in Korea in the middle of May and he had complete confidence that Secretary Stans would be able to solve all of the problems that the Prime Minister had raised. The Prime Minister laughed and said this would be very welcome.

The Prime Minister offered a few farewell courtesies and the meeting concluded.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 540, Country Files, Far East, Korea, Vol. I, to 9–69. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Leonard and approved in S on April 15. A copy was sent to Sneider at the White House. The meeting was held at the Department of State.
  2. See footnote 1, Document 5.
  3. See Document 3.