246. Memorandum of Conversation, Seoul, November 16, 1973.1 2


DATE: November 16, 1973
PLACE: Blue House, Seoul, Korea

SUBJECT: Secretary Kissinger’s Discussion with President Park


  • President Park Chung Hee
  • Presidential Secretary General Kim Chong Yom
  • Acting Foreign Minister Yun Suk Heun
  • Special Assistant to the President for Foreign Affairs Choi Kyu Hah
  • Interpreter Cho Sang Ho
  • Secretary Kissinger
  • Ambassador Philip Habib
  • Acting Assistant Secretary Hummel
  • The following Korean officials joined the discussions during the lunch:
  • Prime Minister Kim Jong Pil
  • National Assembly Speaker Chung Il Kwon

President Park: You must be very tired from your journey.

Secretary Kissinger: No, I am not tired yet but it will probably catch up with me later.

Park: I want to offer to you our wholehearted welcome. I know you have had a very busy schedule and we very much appreciate your taking the time to visit Korea.

[Page 02]

Secretary: I have always had a very warm feeling for Korea. I visited Korea during the war and I have acquired the highest admiration for the Korean people. It is amazing and admirable what has been accomplished here.

Park: It is 22 years since your last visit?

Secretary: Yes, it has been too long.

Park: I would like to congratulate you on your glorious and successful efforts in bringing peace in the Middle East.

Secretary: The Middle East is still a long way from peace but we have been successful in relieving the immediate tension.

Park: Concerning your recent visit to Peking, I would appreciate your giving me your impressions.

Secretary: First in general—whenever I go to Peking and then visit other countries I find that they expect [Page 03] that I will have solved all their problems. I have not talked to you before so I don’t know if you have this expectation.

I will make some general comments first and then to the Peking visit. You can count on the fact that we will not make any prior decisions without consulting you. Therefore whenever I go to Peking—and I expect such trips to be frequent—if we have not told you in advance you can count on the fact that Korea will not be an item on the agenda. That was the case this time. On each of my visits the Chinese make their standard speech on Korea but we do not pursue the subject. You know the sort of speech they made yesterday in the UN. On this occasion on my visit to Peking they didn’t even make their standard speech. The only context in which Korea came up was in connection with the compromise we are trying to develop in the UN, and it came up because I have the impression that the Chinese are having difficulty in arranging with their co-sponsors the achievement of a compromise. The Soviets may very well be playing a role in these difficulties. So we had to spend time just discussing the technical situation in New York and how to give them more time to consult their co-sponsors. Except for that the issue of Korea never came up.

[Page 04]

I have seen press stories that the withdrawal of US troops from Korea was discussed in Peking, but the fact is that the presence of US troops was not discussed in any form.

Park: On your visit to Peking, I would appreciate your own assessment of Peking’s position toward a settlement in Korea. Of course they must give support to North Korea and on the basis of your previous visits and your knowledge of their previous position what assessment can you make of the Chinese attitude toward the Korean question?

Secretary: You know I talked to Chiao Kuan-hua in New York about the fact that we are willing to talk to the North Koreans if the Chinese are prepared to talk to you. They said they could not talk to you in New York because the North Koreans would find out and they also said they could not talk in Washington for other reasons that are not clear to me, but they never absolutely said that the principle was unacceptable. The Chinese position has many elements. On the one hand they must be sure that Pyongyang does not come under the influence of Moscow. On this trip Chou En-lai made [Page 05] a special point of this. Peking has the dominant influence in Pyongyang.

Before going further, I assume that this conversation is on a very confidential basis and it will not be spread to other parts of your government. The Chinese are very sensitive. In fact, I am very sensitive.

On the other hand quite candidly—although I can’t prove this—the Chinese are not eager to have any powerful unified countries on their borders. So I do not believe that the unification of Korea has the same priority for the Chinese that it has for Pyongyang or for you. I think the Chinese, strangely, do not mind the US presence in Korea, particularly if they think that Japanese influence would rise if ours declined. I think the Chinese would be violently opposed to any military aggression by North Korea at this point, because they would be afraid if we become involved with North Korea it would isolate them from Pyongyang because the Soviet Union would support North Korea. Also if China supported North Korea in a military confrontation, that would drive Japan away from China. If the North Koreans attack and the Japanese supported the South Koreans then the Chinese would become more and more isolated. I personally think that the greater likelihood—in terms of outside support—for an attack by North Korea would come from the Soviets [Page 06] rather than from the Chinese, but this could change in five years or so.

Park: That is the prevailing opinion on Korean affairs and on the international and internal situation on the Korean Peninsula. We share the same view, that the overall Korean situation is related to Moscow and Peking. However more recently it seems possible that North Korea may try the same tactics as in the Middle East, influenced by the notion that it can do the same thing on the Korean Peninsula. If they find the opportune moment they may take military action and then they could claim that unification is an established fact. The big powers would come in to stop the fighting, but the North Koreans would be in a better negotiating position because of their territorial gains. What is your opinion?

Secretary: Although I have been given the Nobel Prize for peace, I assure you our policy is not characterized by an excess of sentimentality. I want to characterize the situation in the Middle East. Mr. President, you should watch our actions and not our statements. What do we expect to happen? After Egypt and Syria made [Page 07] their attacks our strategy has been to demonstrate that the side that is supported with Soviet arms could not win. And since it is impossible for Israel with a population of only 3 million to destroy the Arabs who have populations totaling 100 million, it was always necessary for the war to end in a negotiation. So what we wanted was a defeat for the Arabs so severe that they would turn to us, but not so severe as to drive them to the Soviets. And this is exactly what we brought about. In terms of the positions on the map rather than in rhetoric, Syria has been badly hurt and Egypt has had one army trapped and has suffered total defeat. Perfectly frankly—and we need to keep this very secret—it was on a Friday when I went to Moscow. If a ceasefire resolution had been offered at that time in the Security Council we would have had to accept. There would have been no way of avoiding a ceasefire. My going to Moscow permitted military operations to continue for 48 more hours. By that point both Syria and Egypt had been defeated. We didn’t want the war to continue beyond that because the dangers would have been too great. For one thing the more moderate Arab leaders would have been thrown out by extremists. So the lesson of the [Page 08] Middle East is not that one can gain territory and get the UN to approve it. The best you can say is that the UN prevented a complete catastrophe. So the lesson of counter attack in such a war is that the international environment might permit you to take Wonsan but not to take Pyongyang. And a second lesson is that if the action goes as it did in Bangladesh the whole matter is finished. The temporary defeat can be handled, but a basic and near-total defeat could be used by North Korea to solidify its gains. Another thing to remember is that we got 22,000 tons of supplies into Israel by air in 48 hours. Here in Korea such supplies would be easier because in Israel we had only one intermediate base we could use, in the Azores.

Park: I consider your remarks are common sense among peace-loving people, but the leaders in Pyongyang are not common-sense people or peace-loving either.

Secretary: I agree you should guard yourself and keep your position strong for a quick counter-attack, and don’t panic. As long as this Administration is in office we would give you strong support so as to return to the status quo ante.

[Page 09]

Park: You must have received a report on the North Korean’s one and a half hour speech in New York, claiming that the Korean War was instigated by South Korea with U.S. inspiration. Before over 100 members of the UN they made this brazen claim without any sense of guilt. What they are trying to do is re-write history that is known to everybody in the world. They think they can do anything and get away with it. Kim Il Sung is still pretending.

Secretary: I did not say you should not keep yourself alert and cautious. My assessment is that the Chinese will try to prevent a North Korean attack but if it happens anyway Kim Il Song would run a very major risk. We strongly believe that in a few years you will be able to defend yourself. The Korean soldiers I have seen so far look very good to me.

Park: During your Peking visit the North Koreans intensified their propaganda offense against the ROK.

Secretary: Possibly they don’t need much encouragement, and [Page 10] probably the Chinese cannot restrain them, at least as far as propaganda is concerned. Also it is possible that the North Koreans are as suspicious of the Chinese as some of our friends are of Washington and therefore they make a big noise so as not to be overlooked.

Park: In reviewing past Korean history the 1950 attack occurred with the support of the Soviets. We believe that Soviet support of the invasion was based on an assessment that the U.S. would not enter in and support us. That was a miscalculation. In fact we must be very cautious and prudent. I am very pleased and am made more confident by hearing your remarks and by your keen interest and detailed knowledge. However we are very close to the problem and we know the history. We are trying to be alert to cope with any changing situation. As I understand your statements, it is that we should take measures to cope with a reckless attack and should stay alert so as to demonstrate strength so that the North Koreans convince themselves that aggression would not be prudent.

Secretary: I agree.

[Page 11]

Park: Mr. Secretary, in meeting with Chou En-lai and talking about our proposal for the admission of two Koreas—we know that they are ostensibly against this but what is their true attitude? Is it possible that under certain conditions the Chinese would not oppose the proposal? I would appreciate your assessment.

Secretary: My strong impression is that their attitude on dual admission is significantly affected because of Taiwan. They are genuinely not in favor. You will see in the Peking Communiqué an interesting evolution in their position on normalization. In the past the Chinese demanded that we break with Taiwan. However the Communiqué says only that we must recognize the principle of one China. This might open the possibility of normalization without our breaking with Taiwan. If something is accomplished along these lines, the Chinese could begin to think of a similar thing in the Korean case but I don’t think they can consider that now.

Park: However we understand that in the case of dual admission of East and West Germany the Chinese were in favor. Is that true?

[Page 12]

Secretary: Yes, but in that case both Germanys were in agreement. In this case both Koreas do not agree. My experience with the Chinese is that they move very slow and supplely. My impression is they have a mortal fear of making a proposal and being rejected. First they make a general statement and the maybe repeat it if I have not understood them the first time. Then when I do understand, and if I indicate approval, they actually make the proposal. You know the Chinese think they are cleverer than anyone else in the world, and that maybe true. I was once asked by Chou if Americans consider me to be clever. I said I hoped that the Chinese would consider me to be only average clever, for a Chinese, which would be the highest compliment anyone could pay. (laughter)

Park: It has been our constant position that in the present atmosphere unification of Korea is difficult or impossible. So at the present stage there can be no early unification. So our belief is we should put our efforts on a durable peace. First we should bring peace, then unification. Therefore for some time we do not foresee the possibility of reunification. This summer I made a statement on unification. Presently [Page 13] the North Koreans advocate a peace treaty but they propose that US forces should get out and that we should reduce our military strength to 100,000. In reality they are trying to achieve a goal of weakening our defense capability and neutralizing the US Defense Pact. The North continues to try to make propaganda capital by pushing a peace treaty, and some countries feel that the North is proposing peace and the South is not willing to respond. We have been thinking of this and we have a certain proposal to try to deal with it. Our proposal would first be a matter of careful consultation with the US, but I will now give you the rough idea of it to get your reaction. The essence of our proposition would be to offer a nonaggression pact between North and South to try to make sure there is no aggressive action by either party. We would also jointly assert the validity of the armistice agreement. The other side might demand that the UNC be abolished and we would then reply that the UNC authorizes should be handed over to the South Korean Armed Forces. What do you think?

Secretary: First in terms of overall strategy, I was very impressed with your June proposal. I did not [Page 14] believe it had the slightest chance of being effective but it put the other side on the defensive. I think, and this is the strategy we used in our Viet-Nam negotiations, we made many proposals some knowing they had no chance of acceptance. We made them so that there was always a US proposal on the table that the North Vietnamese would have to reject, so that the North Vietnamese could not fully develop a propaganda line since we would constantly make proposals that forced them to redevelop their lines. Occasionally we would make proposals in secret and then they could not be sure whether we would make them public. This was a difficult problem for them. I know those negotiations are not exactly parallel to your situation but there are some similarities.

The strategy you proposed is to make a proposal that keeps the initiative in your hands or at a minimum keeps the other side off balance. Such initiatives should always be proposals that you could live with. They should be serious, and not just maneuvers, and that of course was the case in your June proposal. My first impression is favorable, in that you could afford to have it accepted.

[Page 15]

We must study together how to dissolve the UNC. This is certainly the initiative they will take next year and we should pre-empt the subject. It would be good if you took the initiative whether your proposal is best, or some other might be better, with your permission I want to think this over for a couple of weeks and then reply. I have no better idea now, I just want to think it over. We should think about what counter-proposal they could make, so that we have thought the results through. But your basic approach I like very much.

Park: This is just a thought, and not fully formed, and requires serious study. We know the North would not accept it. As to whom and when it would be presented needs more careful study between us. It would be possible to announce as a South Korean initiative. Another way would be to consult the Soviets, the Chinese and Japanese to see if we could jointly come up with a formula that the North Koreans could be asked to accept, and then our other friends could consider. The way of doing this needs further consideration.

Secretary: My instinct is whatever proposal is agreed, [Page 16] it would be better to come from your government. If we discuss it, with the Chinese and the Soviets the Soviets have a vested interest in embarrassing the Chinese and they might not agree to it. What might work is that after we have worked out a proposal you let me announce it to the Chinese about two weeks in advance as a message from you and ask their help with the North Koreans. This would be a contact from you to the Chinese. The risk would be slight because they are too afraid of breaking a confidence from me to leak it out.

Park: I certainly appreciate your valuable advice on such proposals and there will be thorough discussions between our Foreign Ministry and Ambassador Habib.

Secretary: I will personally pay close attention to this matter.

[Page 17]

(The meeting then broke up and was resumed again at the lunch table, where the Prime Minister and the Speaker joined the group.)

(There was some discussion of the flight route of the Secretary’s aircraft from Peking to Tokyo, in which the PRC insisted that the flight had to go over Shanghai rather than on the direct route over Korea. The Secretary discussed the fact that his former colleagues at Harvard disagree strongly with his policies. President Park mentioned that he had been in China for about five years during the Pacific War.)

Secretary: I think the Chinese do not have a completely closed mind to relations with South Korea. Also I think they are so afraid of the Soviets that they will not challenge the United States during the next few years.

Park: What about the realities of the Sino-Soviet confrontation?

[Page 18]

Secretary: There is very real hostility. In the first place the Chinese do not like the Soviets as people—but of course the Chinese don’t really like anyone. In the second place the Chinese are very worried that the Soviets might attack them. Thirdly, the Soviets are concerned that if the Chinese are this aggressive while still weak, how will they behave when they have a secure nuclear capability?

Park: It seems to me that it would suit the Soviet style to strike when the opponent is weak.

Secretary: I think there is a 50-50 chance that the Soviets may seriously consider an attack before the Chinese are fully nuclear capable.

Park: When I saw President Nixon in 1969 in San Francisco I asked him the same question and got the same 50-50 answer. May I ask whether your estimate is a guess or whether there is evidence.

Secretary: It is now based on some evidence. In 1969 we knew nothing at all about the Chinese.

[Page 19]

(There was some banter about rumors there are many Kissingers flying to many different capitals simultaneously. The Secretary then told the story of the time when Ambassador Habib kicked him out of his office in Saigon when the Secretary, at that time not in government, was visiting Viet-Nam for the first time. There were also ironic complaints by the Secretary that State Department officers refuse to show him interesting telegrams, and have a secret desire to handle everything in the regional bureaus.)

Park: Do you think there will be a North Viet-Nam offensive this dry season?

Secretary: I have the greatest respect for President Thieu. He has done a remarkable job. A North Viet-Nam offensive depends upon being sure of getting the same flow of equipment from the USSR and China. We have the impression it is unlikely the Chinese are maintaining the same flow. There will be attacks in the dry season but the chance is about 55-45 against an all out offensive. We have recently sent a message to the North Vietnamese—this has not been made pubic—that an offensive would have very serious consequences, [Page 20] and we pointed out they have miscalculated us on other occasions. We have recently sent reconnaissance aircraft over North Viet-Nam and recently a carrier has moved into the Tonkin Gulf—this is only for your private information. We take the position that the recent war powers legislation by the U.S. Congress lifts the restrictions on our acts in Indochina so we would have 60 days in which to conduct military operations including mining their harbors again.

Park: How is Mao’s health?

Secretary: Of course he is very old, I believe he is 79, and he could die anytime regardless of health factors. When I first saw him two years ago I thought he couldn’t last very long. In February 1972 it was hard for him to walk without people holding him. Then in February 1973 he was much better and could walk without help. On this visit he was even better than February 1973, conducting a conversation for nearly three hours, covering every topic in US-China relations and many other subjects, without referring to any notes. In the past this is the sort of conversation that Chou En-lai has undertaken. This time he put on a very [Page 21] impressive performance intellectually. Still, he is an old man. Chou En-lai himself is very active at the age of 74.

Park: I saw a picture of your discussions with Chou and it seemed that Chou was taking a very vigorous attitude.

Secretary: Yes, he has made it a point to identify himself with China’s policy toward the United States. Of course Mao has also identified himself with it.

Park: Will you go to Norway to receive the Nobel Prize?

Secretary: No I do not plan to go but I will have the American Ambassador there accept it for me. Le Duc Tho refused the prize, possibly because he wants to maintain the freedom to attack South Viet-Nam and also probably because he does not want to associate with me. He did send me a nice letter in connection with the Nobel Prize. You might be interested that once during our negotiations he looked me squarely in the eye and he said, “Let me say frankly, open-heartedly, sincerely and with the [Page 22] best intentions, you are a liar.” (laughter)

Park: We have some appreciation of the difficulties of negotiations with Communists.

Secretary: I may say that the Israelis are about as tough as the Communists. The Arabs are relatively UN-disciplined. A problem with the Arabs is that they will proceed from one unjustified assumption to another. They will begin by hoping you have accepted something, and then pretend you have accepted, and then assume that there has been a firm agreement, and will later on claim that you have gone back on some understanding. However, up to now the Arabs have not been as nasty in negotiations as has been my experience with the Communists. For four years I negotiated with Le Duc Tho, without achieving any progress whatsoever.

Ambassador Habib: In your North/South talks you should keep in mind our experience in the Viet-Nam negotiations. The other side will continue over a long period to say “absolutely no.” Then suddenly they may change their minds. I advise you to keep on with the discussions, not be discouraged, and wait for a shift in their position.

[Page 23]

Secretary: Every time you make a proposal it will take a few months for them to analyze it.

Park: Despite the fact that we have a common Korean language to use in our negotiations there are very significant differences of meaning that they attach to Korean words. For instance, they insist that the word “freedom” must include their freedom to conduct espionage and subversion in South Korea.

Secretary: We had similar problems of terminology when U.S. Congressmen visited Hanoi. Time after time North Vietnamese officials would use language in talking to the Congressmen that would give them the impression that there had been a major change in Hanoi’s positions. Then the Congressmen would talk to our newspapers and the Administration would be accused of failing to respond to the shift. In 1971 the North Vietnamese made public seven points but proposed nine points to us secretly for negotiation. Every week they publicly demanded an answer to their seven points that they had said privately to us they [Page 24] did not wish to discuss. After two months of this we gave them some secret counter proposals to their secret nine points. Then we published the whole thing and demanded a reply. We never heard from them for seven months after that.

Park: Last year we agreed with the North to stop all slander and abuse between us. The North at first honored this, then they started some slander over their central broadcasting. We taxed them with this and at first they said it was only a certain political party making the broadcast. But later they tried to claim that the broadcast came from a clandestine radio in South Korea. Of course we used direction finding and found out they were lying.

Ambassador Habib: What is the status of your proposal to the North?

Park: There was a Secretaries meeting at 10:00 a.m. today at Panmunjom. We propose that the next Red Cross meeting should be in Seoul. As for the coordinating committee, the other side has called it off, refusing [Page 25] to deal with certain members of our side. We are contacting them to find out if those talks could be restarted if there are changes of personnel on both sides.

Ambassador Habib: I have not been impressed up to now with North Korean diplomacy. The North Vietnamese are much more skillful.

Park: The North Vietnamese perhaps have adopted some elements of their style from the French. On the other hand the North Koreans are unique, and one could call it a Kim Il Sung style.

Secretary: I want you to know we will be making it increasingly costly for the third world to be freely in opposition to us. In the case of Yugoslavia we have cancelled their Foreign Minister’s visit and we have cancelled other visits by Americans to them. We will make sure it is no longer free and easy to oppose the United States. I suppose that the North Koreans are probably the most difficult country in the world now. I expected that there might be a North Korean approach to us in New York but there has not been one. Of course if there is one we will tell you about it before we do anything.

[Page 26]

Park: Mr. Secretary, you should meet with them to get your own assessment.

Secretary: I meet with them myself?

Park: Well perhaps not necessarily.

Secretary: We will not take the initiative. If they suggest it, we will get your advice. If we were to initiate contact they would think they could deal with us, excluding you. I can assure you there will be no meetings with North Koreans that are kept secret from you.

Park: Newspapers have reported that if the Chinese make contacts with us, the United States similarly will contact North Korea.

Secretary: We thought this was your position. We have no overwhelming desire to contact the North Koreans. For instance, we are in contact with the Soviets and the Chinese for entirely cold-blooded reasons. Thus any contacts we have with the North Koreans that we jointly agree upon would be for equally cold-blooded purposes.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–1973 (TS Files), Box 24, Misc Refiles [No Folder Title], POL 7 US/Kissinger. Top Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Hummel. The meeting was held in the Blue House.
  2. Kissinger and Park discussed U.S.-Korean relations and U.S. negotiations with China.