81. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Kim Chong Pil, Republic of Korea
  • Assemblyman Chung Joo Yoon
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • John H. Holdridge


  • Kim Chong Pil’s Remarks on US-Korea Relations

Dr. Kissinger warmly welcomed Mr. Kim, recalling their relationship while Mr. Kim was at Harvard. Mr. Kim, Dr. Kissinger noted, had been the only student he had ever had who had been accompanied by a bodyguard. (Assemblyman Chung Joo Yoon interjected to note that he, in fact, had been the one who had accompanied Mr. Kim.) Dr. Kissinger recalled, too, that he and Mr. Kim had been in Saigon at the same time on one occasion. Mr. Kim responded to the effect that he had hoped Dr. Kissinger might have been able to proceed to Seoul from Saigon. Dr. Kissinger expressed in turn the hope that he could go to Seoul in the not too distant future, to which Mr. Kim responded “the sooner the better.”

Mr. Kim stated that he would like to take this opportunity to ask Dr. Kissinger a number of frank questions—questions which were also in President Park Chong Hee’s mind. First, could Dr. Kissinger visualize in the foreseeable future any withdrawal of Korean troops from Vietnam, and if so, when, in what form, and what size? Dr. Kissinger declared that in principle he could see the possibility of a Korean withdrawal, for example in the case of a peace settlement. He could also imagine that if the South Vietnamese became strong enough to take over, then at some point the ROK troops could be reduced. He had no schedule in mind, except in the event that a peace settlement materialized, and was exercising no pressure. The question of ROK troop withdrawals was one that should be discussed confidentially between the two Governments.

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Dr. Kissinger asked if he could ask Mr. Kim a question—were the Koreans satisfied with the discussions they were having with our Ambassador in Seoul? Mr. Kim replied that he was personally satisfied over the outcome of the negotiations with the U.S. Ambassador. He had met President Park before his departure, and President Park had not shown any unsatisfactory reactions. However, many Koreans had not had satisfactory feelings about the negotiations. On this, Dr. Kissinger remarked that if Mr. Kim’s President wanted to deal directly with our President on issues of extreme sensitivity such as the troops in Vietnam, President Park could always get in touch with him, Dr. Kissinger, through the Korean Ambassador here or through someone else the Koreans could trust. Mr. Kim promised after his return to tell this to President Park.

Mr. Kim went on to say that to be frank, with respect to the reduction of U.S. forces in Korea President Park had expressed displeasure when this announcement was first made because at the time of the San Francisco conference between the two Presidents there had been no mention of U.S. force reductions. Then, a sudden unilateral announcement concerning reductions had occurred. From the standpoint of the staff who assist President Park in preparing for discussions, there should be as much advance notice as possible so that they would be better able to help him out. Dr. Kissinger replied that what Mr. Kim had said was true; however, at the time the two Presidents had met we had not known of the decision on the U.S. force reduction. It was not that we had tried to keep this matter from President Park. Mr. Kim indicated that President Park now understood the difficult decisions which the U.S. had to make. Of course, President Park had to deal with next year’s election, and the U.S. announcement had initially put the ROK Government in an embarrassing position, though the people now understood.

Dr. Kissinger asked Mr. Kim how President Park would do next year—Mr. Kim’s party had some experience in managing elections, hadn’t it? Mr. Kim acknowledged that he and his party did have some experience in this field, and might need to try managing the elections again. Dr. Kissinger humorously remarked that Mr. Kim must have learned some of this from Dr. Kissinger’s teachings, although the Koreans had a talent of their own.

Mr. Kim said that in view of changing international trends over the next four or five years, Korea might find itself in a more difficult position in coping with these changes and was looking over its policy decisions. For this reason he wanted to ask Dr. Kissinger’s counsel. Among the changes foreseen by the Koreans were China gaining a position in the UN, a continuation of the Chinese Communist threat, and [Page 215] a settlement in Vietnam. In its international position Korea had to face such changes. Its international security situation was a big issue, and under the changed circumstances the Koreans might need to explore new policy directions. Dr. Kissinger responded by asking in what way, and towards whom? Mr. Kim then spoke of an increased degree of flexibility on the international scene and an opening of doors, e.g. Chinese admission to the UN and a possible settlement in Vietnam. However, while some doors were opening more widely, the ROK position might become closed in so that it might some day be compelled to act against its will. Accordingly, the ROK had to ride over the changes and the waves on the international scene.

Dr. Kissinger asserted that he understood Mr. Kim’s point. We would try to consult with the Koreans better than had been the case on the troop withdrawal issue. Our President was not known for letting down his friends. Mr. Kim noted on the score of U.S. troop reductions that after 25 years of working together the Korean people might have gotten the feeling of being left in a vacuum. Still, they now understood the idea and accepted it. A more fundamental point, Dr. Kissinger declared, was that the Koreans didn’t want their country to be in an isolated condition with respect to the rest of Asia.

Mr. Kim agreed that the Koreans were concerned about being isolated from Asian society. The Chinese position was one of flexibility, with more and more recognition and the possibility of UN entry; on the other hand, Korea was unable to have such flexibility because of basic positions which it had originally taken. Thus, if the world tide was changing and Korea remained as before, Korea needed to ask how it would be affected. Should it continue to maintain its basic positions? This is what he, Mr. Kim, had in mind in asking for Dr. Kissinger’s views.

Dr. Kissinger agreed that we were, in fact, in a transitional period. We had no illusions about China, which we knew was our enemy. However, we had two enemies, the USSR and China, which happened to be fighting with one another. Speaking quite frankly, we therefore were trying to see if we could use one enemy against the other. While we realized that China was not our friend, the tactical situation required us to see how we might use China in moves vis-à-vis the Soviets. In this, though, it was out of the question that we would sacrifice Korea to China. The Koreans were fortunate in not having the problem of how to deal with two enemy countries. We would not abandon Korea, which should not confuse our tactics with our strategy.

Mr. Kim referred again to the U.S. force reductions in Korea, observing that everyone in Korea understood that this meant a detachment of the U.S. commitment to support Korea and in effect the [Page 216] reestablishment of an Asian defense system. Dr. Kissinger responded by remarking that we had always thought the ROK would be better off by having its army modernized than by having U.S. forces present in Korea. Mr. Kim’s reply was that Korea had the problem of the North Korean threat, and needed to maintain big forces at all times. As President Park had said in his August 15 speech on reunification, the ROK was watching the negotiations between East and West Germany and might need to face up to the desirability of talking with North Korea. During the next four or five years, Korea would have to deal with problems such as these.

Dr. Kissinger declared that we were friends of the ROK, and would do what we could to support and strengthen it. Dr. Kissinger noted that he had the highest regard for President Park, and had high personal regard for Mr. Kim. Mr. Kim wondered if Dr. Kissinger had any words in mind for President Park, and Dr. Kissinger reiterated that if President Park wanted to be in direct touch with us he should send the Korean Ambassador or someone else whom he could trust to Dr. Kissinger. In this way we could maintain direct contact.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 542, Country Files, Far East, Korea, Vol. III, 6/70–Dec 70. Secret; Sensitive. Sent for information. Drafted on December 7. The meeting was held at Kissinger’s office at the White House. This memorandum is attached to a December 9 memorandum from Holdridge to Kissinger recommending no further distribution “due to the sensitivity of the subject matter.”