234. Memorandum From John Holdridge of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), Washington, March 15, 1973.1 2


March 15, 1973

SUBJECT: UNCURK and the Korean Item in the UN

You will recall that in discussing the Korean situation with Chou En-lai, he indicated that if we can secure the abolition of UNCURK the Chinese would be willing to “keep the issue quiet.” By this we assume he meant the whole Korean question in the UN next fall. You told Chou that you believed it would be possible to obtain the abolition of UNCURK by the second half of this year, and that you had talked this matter over with the President and had received his agreement. You said that you would see if you could get the South Koreans to agree and, if possible, to have them propose UNCURK’s abolition. If not, you would consult with the other members (we believe that you meant the other members of UNCURK). Chou said that it would be best if the South Koreans took the initiative. You told Chou that you would have the answer for the Chinese on this by mid-March.

To begin sorting this issue out, it might be useful to ask Ambassador Habib for his views on how the South Koreans might react to offering to abolish UNCURK if some arrangement can be worked out with the other side to keep the Korean issue quiet in the next UN session. He might also be asked about South Korean willingness to take the initiative. At Tab A is a draft back-channel message from you to Habib which sets forth this proposition. It is put in terms of its occurring to you following your talks with the Chinese, and makes no mention of the subject having been discussed with them.

Your recent conversation with ROK Foreign Minister Kim Yong-sik provides some insight into current South Korean thinking on this issue (Tab B). When you asked Kim about UNCURK, he seemed to suggest that its terms of reference were no longer germane, but added that the organization should be maintained in order to put pressure on the North Koreans. It would thus appear from Kim’s words that we might have some difficulty in persuading the South Koreans to go along.

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However, there are a number of factors which might be used to persuade the South Koreans to go along. First, the quid pro quo we would be proposing in itself constitutes some pressure on North Korea, and the ROKs themselves—if they had some confidence in the outcome of the deal—might be glad to get the Korean issue cooled in the UN next fall. Second, UNCURK may be in the process of falling apart anyway. Two of its member nations (Chile and Pakistan) have already withdrawn; both the Netherlands and Australia have indicated that they believe it no longer has any utility; the Thai and the Turks appear disinterested. The logic of trading a fading asset for a tangible gain might appeal to the ROKs if the proposition is presented to them in this form.

There is one major hitch to the outright abolition of UNCURK, however. A State paper (Tab C) points out that the outright abolition of UNCURK would require formal action by the UNGA—which almost inevitably would lead to the acrimonious UN debate that both we and the PRC want to avoid. In addition, such a debate could result in others attacking the UNC, and the ensuing UNGA action formally abolishing UNCURK could be read as a North Korea victory and could suggest a repudiation of UNCURK’s past actions in Korea.

The State paper therefore suggests several alternatives, the most preferable of which, in my opinion, Gould be that of having the UNCURK reach an informal understanding to adjourn sine die, and to inform the UNGA of their decision, explaining that in light of the South-North talks UNCURK’s efforts to secure Korean reunification were no longer necessary. The organization would still remain on the books, thereby preserving the fiction of its existence, but to all intents and purposes cease to be a factor on the Korean scene. As with the first alternative, the ROK’s taking the initiative with the UNCURK members toward this end would have a number of advantages for Seoul and ourselves: it would help avoid an appearance that the move had been forced on the ROK, would help the ROK steal a march on the North, would spike any North Korean claim of victory, and would give the PRC and other Communist nations leverage to try to persuade North Korea to acquiesce in deferral of a UNGA debate.

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In the case of either alternative, however, we would want to have some idea of the ROK attitude.


That you approve the draft back-channel message to Ambassador Habib at Tab A.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Country Files, Far East, Box 544, Korea, Volume 6, January 1973–October 1973. Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only; Entirely Outside System. In the top right hand corner Kissinger wrote, “Where is the extra paper by Rush?” A response in an unknown hand wrote “Tab C,” referring to the March 8 Department of State paper. At the top of the first page, an unknown hand indicated that the situation room received the telegram for dispatch on the morning of March 19, 1973. Attached but not published is Tab A, the draft backchannel telegram from Kissinger to Habib, which was sent as backchannel telegram 30768 to Habib, March 19. (ibid., Box 411, Backchannel Messages, Southeast Asia, Volume II, 1973, Part 1) Tab B, a February 24 memorandum of conversation, is Document 232. Tab C, a paper prepared in the Department of State, March 8, is attached but not published.
  2. Holdridge recommended that Kissinger approve a backchannel message to Habib concerning UNCURK.