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

4044. For Ambassador Brown. Pass DOD and CINCPAC for POLAD.

Summary. Park received Michaelis and me at 4:30 pm Monday. Interview lasted two hours. As we gradually increased pressure on him, his position on joint troop planning moved from adamant repetition of his earlier refusals to countenance reduction of U.S. troops or to plan jointly on that subject, to statement that he had instructed his Defense Minister to do no such planning until “a degree of satisfaction” had been achieved in modernization talks now underway.2 Finally, he appeared to soften latter position somewhat by saying he had not yet received interim report of modernization group and he would reserve his opinion on joint planning on reductions until he had that, after which he would get in touch with us. As result of problems we spread before him he seemed more indecisive, albeit more truculent, as reality of U.S. determination to proceed with or without his cooperation became clearer to him. He reiterated all the “musts” and declared his “displeasure” frequently. At no point did he acknowledge U.S. gestures made at Honolulu. He excluded his Ministers from interview despite Prime Minister’s statement to me that he would be present. He had only two Blue House officials there, including interpreter.
I opened by saying we had requested interview for purpose of examining our positions and of ascertaining how we could cooperate during period ahead. I said problems are arising because of lack of joint planning. Further, we hope to keep public contention and difficulty, which would only complicate and endanger favorable consideration of modernization problem by Congress, to minimum. We were also hoping that clarifications we had provided at Honolulu had made it possible to deal with these matters. Modernization talks are under way and we believe they will produce useful picture of what is needed. Is it now possible to move ahead on joint planning on our troop reductions?
Park replied that there was no change in their attitude. His views had been made known to United States at Honolulu. Nothing [Page 175] could be done about troop reduction planning before achievement of results at modernization conference and before “assurances” concerning security could be given to Korean people. When those things are achieved joint consultation could begin. He understood U.S. problems, but there are similar or greater difficulties in Korea. He had received letters which indicated Korean people 100 per cent against reduction of U.S. troops. If reduction is to occur there must be “assurances that there will be no outbreak of war in Korea.” Unless there is some agreement of that kind he will not agree to reductions. He understands there are serious and sincere talks about modernization underway and he hopes they will provide conclusion which will enable general public to feel secure. Only then will he take part in reduction talks and only then will matters of size, timing, and actions to be taken after agreement, be discussed. He wanted to make clear at this point that ROKG will not participate in talks on reductions until such assurances are given.
I then said that we regretted that there is no change in their willingness to talk with us and I would describe problems arising in connection with our decision to reduce number of our troops. Our planning, which we had unfortunately been compelled to do alone because ROKG felt it could not participate, provides for reduction of 5,000 spaces by December 1970, of 8,500 more at end of March 1971, and of 4,900 by June 30, 1971. As translation proceeded, Park closed his eyes and jiggled his knee as he does under stress, and ordered coffee.
Park repeated that he understood U.S. difficulties including congressional problem, but unless there is mutually acceptable conclusion of modernization talks, ROKG will not participate in talks. “If United States proceeds to reduce he will not object but he will not cooperate.” He continued: “Perhaps it would be said that ROK Govt is uncooperative and intransigent but same holds true for United States because ROKG was not consulted in advance of this decision and must have assurances.”
I replied that there was no approved plan on troop reductions when we asked ROKG to plan jointly with us. They felt unable to do that. Therefore we had to move in view of our national sentiment, policy, budgetary and manpower considerations.ROKG may have had good ideas but they would not present them in planning sessions. For example, for lack of joint planning there is real problem about disposition of equipment which may become available soon as result of reductions. What are we to do with it? We cannot let it deteriorate, and it is hard to imagine public reaction here or in U.S. if ROKG refusal to plan with us makes it necessary to send it elsewhere. This very unfortunate. List of equipment is impressive, there are hundreds of tanks for [Page 176] example, and much other equipment that would be of great value to ROKF.3
Park, now in more of thinking rather than declarative mood, said list included Corps equipment.
I repeated that we had to develop our planning unilaterally because we could get no Korean input. Korean thoughts would have been most useful but they would not participate. General Michaelis could answer his questions on military aspects of problem.
Park rather angrily said he had received initial official word of our intentions on March 27 and he regrets reaction of USG to his pleas for few years’ more time. He had time and time again asked for consideration of ROK security problems because next few years critical. But if situation in U.S. makes it difficult for USG to wait, he would not object provided ROK forces are strengthened to extent they are able to deter aggression and assurances about security are forthcoming along with his strengthened forces. He does not know what outcome of modernization talks will be. If they lack sincerity, if Korean requirements encounter U.S. attitude that they cannot be met, then it is his intention to object to troop reductions in Korea. But if U.S. pulls out forces as planned he can do nothing as U.S. forces are under U.S. control.
I said all this comes down to question of confidence. We have given every possible assurance at our highest level about our intention to modernize their forces, and we have reiterated our commitment to their security. Legally, it is impossible for us to do more than we have done. From our point of view Korean Govt seems to lack confidence in U.S. intentions and our statements, and we do not understand why.
Park then picked up word “impossible” and seemed to be trying to determine whether I said it was impossible for us to accept their demand for additional security assurance. I checked word with him and then said that if ROKG is asking for something more in way of commitment than is in treaty, it is impossible for us to exceed treaty limits. If ROKG is asking for renegotiation of treaty to provide additional assurances it is opinion of our govt that such renegotiation is practically impossible in present circumstances. Park replied that he never made that request, it came from Assembly.
Park went on to day that it may be true that there is lack of confidence and trust between our two countries, lack of U.S. confidence in [Page 177] Korea, and of Korea in U.S. He does not depend so much on Mutual Defense Treaty. When Korean war broke out there was no treaty but U.S. came with valuable and timely assistance. (He became somewhat worked up at this point.) On problem of confidence in each other he recalled that during meeting with President Nixon about year ago U.S. President explained his Doctrine and his intention to reduce forces abroad. After that explanation, President Nixon assured him Doctrine would not be applied to Korea but on contrary U.S. forces would be made stronger, and that this was expressed in effect in joint communiqué.4 Also at time of despatching ROK forces to Vietnam, General Beach’s letter declared that as long as Korean forces in Vietnam there would be no U.S. troop cut in Korea. At this, I looked at him inquiringly, but he avoided looking at me. He was excited and after moment’s reflection I decided to leave obvious challenge for another occasion, as it would not do to correct him before his Secretary General and his interpreter. He gave me no opportunity in any case to inject a correction. He went on rapidly, saying that time has come for Korea to develop her economy and her defense self-reliance, and he fully intended that his country would stand on her own feet but only thing required is our understanding that this could not be done in day or two.
He then declared that less than year after he had received U.S. assurances about no troop reduction, he was presented with U.S. plan for withdrawal. Korean people are keenly interested in reduction of forces and disposal of our equipment and how much will be made available. They are not sure of our intentions. Will there be more reductions next year?
Noting his uncertainty, I suggested that he might consider having some officers meet with General Michaelis’s staff and consider various problems arising from our force reduction and plan orderly arrangements for equipment, units, etc. which are needed. I added that we understand he seeking some kind of assurance but nature of what he is seeking is not clear to us. It appears to lie on diplomatic side, and we could explore what they have in mind while his people make practical arrangements with our military officers which would not necessarily imply that he had agreed to our force reductions.
Park said ROK Govt would do that when satisfactory conclusion can be drawn from modernization talks. He said he was in position of having instructed his Minister of Defense that no planning on troop reductions could take place until there is “satisfactory degree” of assurances from modernization talks.
Gen. Michaelis then explained procedures being followed by modernization committee to determine actual equipment and funding requirements, priorities and training lead times.
Gen. Michaelis and I pointed out that there is really no time for procedure he suggested (para 14). Problems of reductions and equipment we had mentioned would soon be upon us. What would be effect of shipping out our equipment, we asked again.
Park rejoined angrily that we were saying Korean delegates would go into joint troop reduction planning talks to listen only. I said that not case, they should meet with us, exchange ideas about orderly arrangements for units and equipment. We very much regretted absence of ROK ideas.
Park said statements of U.S. spokesmen about reduction indicated USG will go ahead. As far as he is concerned, if conclusion satisfactory “to a degree” can be drawn from modernization talks he would not object to discussion of troop reductions and would meet and talk with us.
I replied that it should be understood that in suggesting joint planning I did not imply there could be any change in our plan to reduce our force. I had only suggested joint exchange on absorption of equipment and arrangements for replacement units as practical aspect of problem, which Gen. Michaelis best qualified to discuss.
Park then asked Gen. Michaelis for details of our plan for reduction and was given outline of approved plan. Park inquired whether it is planned to take whole units or parts of units. Michaelis provided him with chart showing nature and pace of withdrawals.
Park then launched into expression of displeasure at U.S. unilateral planning, to which I rejoined again that it was necessary only because ROKs felt they could not join us. Park reiterated his “regret and displeasure” at U.S. action and stated again he would not participate until “satisfactory conclusion” could be drawn from modernization talks. He said that if U.S. troops were being moved elsewhere for emergency purposes then this hasty withdrawal would be understandable but that is not case and it is based only on U.S. domestic political problems, and ROK should be given more time. So far everything is on unilateral basis and U.S. is not respecting or listening to ROK wishes. U.S. troops are merely going home and withdrawal is not for any emergency purpose. What about NATO? Why aren’t troops being withdrawn from there?
I took this occasion to read to him Secretary’s remarks to Korean parliamentary delegation. Park said nothing except that North Koreans know all about ROK strength.
I then made statement to effect that essence of problem is that we must talk and plan jointly. Regardless of our views as to how each [Page 179] of us had proceeded, we can only encourage his people and avoid giving comfort to enemy by talking and planning together. He knows our system of govt. We had given him best assurances we can possibly give that we will provide adequate modernization and we had assured him commitment to ROK security remains unchanged. We do not understand why such assurances cannot be taken to ROK public. Our plans involve less than three per cent of main ROK/U.S. force and we have offered generous compensatory arrangements. Also we find it difficult to agree that only one side of problem, modernization, should be discussed. Both modernization and troop reduction planning must go forward together. Unless they do, modernization program may encounter obstacles in Congress. I would leave with him informal paper (ref State 121444 para two)5 which reflected views we had expressed.
Park sat a moment without responding. He then said he had not yet received interim report on modernization. Until he did he would reserve judgment on need to plan jointly with us, and will then get in touch with us. I said I hoped for reasons we had stated that would be soon.
I will comment later on long-term meaning for us, as I see it, of Park’s attitude. One interesting thing occurred after interview ended. As we were leaving his office, after making our farewell bows, I turned once again and looked back at him. Park was looking at paper outline which Michaelis left of approved plan for force reduction and for some reason he was smiling. This struck me as odd. There were certainly no smiles during our meeting.
Suggestions for near term handling of problem follow for your consideration.6
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 542, Country Files, Far East, Korea, Vol. III, 6/70–Dec 70. Secret; Priority;Nodis.
  2. For a summary of the modernization talks, which began on March 22, see Document 88.
  3. In telegram 3883 from Seoul, July 27, Porter informed Brown that he intended to urge Park to accept joint planning of U.S. troop reductions. Porter explained that he would use the rationale that without Park’s consent to joint planning, congressional agreement to giving the ROK leftover equipment could not be obtained. (Ibid.)
  4. See footnote 7, Document 35.
  5. Telegram 121444 to Seoul, July 28. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 542, Country Files, Far East, Korea, Vol. III, 6/70–Dec. 70)
  6. In telegram 4095 from Seoul, August 6, Porter added that “I am inclined to believe that it is best to let things simmer for awhile and avoid any reaction which would give Park and advisers reason to believe that their tough stand is paying off.” (Ibid.)