258. Memorandum of Conversation, Seoul, November 22, 1974, 3 p.m.1 2




  • Park Chung-Hee, President of the Republic of Korea (ROK)
  • Kim Chong-Pil, ROK Prime Minister
  • Kim Dong-Jo, ROK Foreign Minister
  • Hahm Pyung-Chun, Korean Ambassador to the United States
  • Kim Chung-Yom, Chief Presidential Secretary
  • Gerald R. Ford, President of the United States of America
  • Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State
  • Philip C. Habib, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
  • Richard L. Sneider, United States Ambassador to the ROK
  • Brent Scowcroft, Lieutenant General, USAF, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

DATE, TIME, AND PLACE: November 22, 1974, 3:00 p.m.
The Blue House, Seoul, Korea

SUBJECTS: South Korean Dependence on U.S. Support; North Korean Threat; North Korean Tunneling Under the DMZ; North-South Dialogue; Need to Negotiate from a Position of Strength; Japan’s Expanding Contacts with North Korea; Park Requests U.S. Intervention with Moscow and Peking on Korean Problem; South Korea’s Economic Problems; Continuing U.S. Support for South Korea; World Economic Outlook; U.S. Will Take Korean Question Up with PRC and Soviet Leaders

[Page 02]

After the opening greeting, President Park began his presentation.

South Korean Dependence on U.S. Support

President Park: I would like to make a few comments. First, on behalf of the government and people of Korea, I extend to you a heartfelt welcome for visiting our country on your first overseas trip since becoming President. The Korean people vividly remember with profound gratitude that American youth came to their aid and shed blood for a common cause. A source of constant assurance to Korea is the stationing of U.S. troops here, who play an important role in defense of Korea.

I also wish to express admiration and respect for the leading world role played by you, President Ford, in easing world tensions, in building a structure of world peace, and in seeking to solve the worldwide economic difficulties. There is no doubt about the enormous difficulties you face today.

North Korean Threat

I would like now to discuss briefly the Korean situation. Since you have been fully briefed, there is no need to go into detail. I would like to point out one fact which concerns us the most. The North Koreans are the most militant, radical Communists of all Communist Party nations in the world. They could easily resort to reckless and adventurous acts, which ordinary people could not predict.

One example of North Korean recklessness occurred only a week ago, when we discovered a tunnel designed to penetrate large forces behind our line for attack and aggression. This tunnel proves that the North Koreans are prepared to resort to reckless, unpredictable acts. I am convening a Military Command Conference to consider the underground approach tunnels. The purpose of these tunnels is not infiltration or small-scale guerrilla attacks. Given their size, the fundamental purpose for building the tunnels — the number of which we do not know — is to bring large-scale military forces into our rear areas. We therefore have to reassess our strategy.

In this connection, I recall several articles written last year by American journalists after visiting North Korea. They described North Korea as one huge military camp or garrison state. There are 2,700,000 armed troops in North Korea. The North Koreans are inculcated with the peculiar Communist dogma of Kim Il-sung. In North Korea there is military rule, military drills for school children beginning in the fifth or sixth grades. We therefore have to be watchful.

[Page 03]

North Korea has openly stated that its political objective and basic strategy is to communize the South by force.

In fact, their excessively large military forces overburden the North Korean economy leading to deterioration in their economic situation. There is dissatisfaction and dissension in the North, and Kim Il-sung is uneasy and uncertain. Feeling time is against him, Kim Il-sung has often committed reckless acts.

Since North Korea is equipped with excessively large military forces, the ROK must consider the possibility of armed invasion. My assessment is that, without support by Communist China and the Soviet Union, North Korea is not capable of launching a long-term, large-scale, all-out invasion. The possibility of such an invasion is slim if American troops remain here. However, North Korea is able to mount a limited offensive if it is combined with infiltration and serious unrest politically in the South and if government control is weakened. Such a limited offensive could easily escalate into full-scale hostilities, with the tunnels used to penetrate large-scale forces.

North Korean Tunneling Under the DMZ

President Ford: General Stillwell showed me diagrams of the tunnel during our trip to Camp Casey. Large -scale troops behind the line does pose an ominous possibility.

At this point, President Park showed President Ford a small-scale model of the tunnel which had been brought into the room. In describing the tunnel, President Park said there was no way to check whether the tunnel goes to the northern boundary of the DMZ, but he thinks so. When completed, the tunnel would be capable of sending one regiment per hour behind the southern boundary of the DMZ, thus penetrating large-scale forces into the rear areas. This would disorganize the front-line troops on the DMZ boundary.

Secretary Kissinger: Would they be capable of bringing heavy equipment with them?

President Park: No. They could bring crew-served weapons. North Koreans have light-armed divisions with light weapons.

President Ford: How far below the surface was the tunnel dug?

President Park: (President Park, misunderstanding the question, replied as follows): From the center line of the DMZ to the south the tunnel runs about 1,200 meters.

[Page 04]

Secretary Kissinger: The President was asking about the depth of the tunnel.

President Park: The depth of the tunnel depends on the terrain. In some places it’s one to two meters deep. Where it was discovered, it was only one foot deep. One of our patrols saw steam or condensed air coming from the ground and that was how the tunnel was discovered.

Military sources also believe that there are four to five such tunnels elsewhere because sentries have heard knocking sounds underground.

President Ford: Was the tunnel discovery by search or happenstance?

President Park: A patrol saw steam or smoke purely accidentally. They suspected and dug, and found the tunnel. At that point, an enemy sentry fired on the patrol.

We have ordered the latest type of detectors, which are expected next month. We are utilizing all types of sound detectors, including mine detectors, to determine more about the tunnels. Even oil drills are being used to find the tunnels.

Secretary Kissinger: You will probably end up finding oil.

President Park: That would be fortunate. If we find it, we will not have to spend time with the Arabs.

President Ford: This has been interesting and helpful.

President Park: The North Koreans might try a blitzkrieg offensive, taking their cue from the Middle East war. They would try to occupy certain areas and then ask for a ceasefire. This possibility is high.

North-South Dialogue

President Park: Last, I would like to speak briefly about keeping the peace consistent with U.S. detente efforts. The North-South dialogue was initiated by us, but the dialogue has been suspended due to the North Koreans’ obstructionist tactics. The North Koreans unilaterally notified us that they would not keep the dialogue going at the highest levels. It has been kept going only at a working level. Thus, the North Koreans’ ulterior motive in responding to our proposal was not to ease tensions or to establish peace. Rather it was to gain a prompt U.S. withdrawal by using the dialogue for political propaganda purposes.

[Page 05]

Even though the North-South dialogue is not working and was suspended last August, we do not intend to let it break down, given world public opinion.

Considering relevant factors in the Korean situation, we recognize that we will not realize our goal of national unification in the foreseeable future. However, we have no choice but to coexist in peace until conditions for unification are right. To establish peace, therefore, is our most desirable interim goal. And we are seeking a peaceful coexistence similar to that which exists now in East-West Germany.

In considering how to act in the interim, I have repeatedly urged North Korea to agree to a nonaggression pact and to entry of both North and South Korea into the United Nations. But North Korea has turned deaf ears. Nevertheless, we will continue our effort to have a dialogue with North Korea and to seek a response to our call.

Need to Negotiate from a Position of Strength

I am sure that you, Mr. President, and Secretary Kissinger agree with me that a position of strength is an absolute necessity for negotiations with the Communists. We must build up our national strength and mobilize our total energies to the degree that we can surpass North Korea. When the North Koreans accept the superiority of strength of South Korea, then they will come to the table for negotiations.

The next three or four years will be the most important period for bringing about a shift in the climate. South Korea during this period will become self-reliant so that when North Korea attacks us without help from the Soviet Union or Communist China we will be able to defend ourselves with our own forces. To carry out this task positively, we must maintain political and social stability in the ROK. To attain stability, I believe strong leadership is necessary. Although some of our people complain, we need to develop prosperity and security to deal with the peculiar North Korean type of Communism.

Strong leadership will contribute to peace and stability in Korea, in Northeast Asia and in the world as a whole.

I believe that the Republic of Korea and the United States have a common interest in deterring hostilities and blocking the North Korean scheme to bring Communist rule to the South. My efforts to establish peace are based on close cooperation with the United States. Accordingly, I honestly hope for a continued U.S. military presence, in the interim, at the same level as today. Such a presence will discourage miscalculation, encourage peace in Korea, and maintain the current balance of power as a deterrence.

[Page 06]

Of course, we do not expect the U.S. presence to remain indefinitely, given the mounting U.S. public opinion and pressure in Congress. However, Korean self-reliance must be insured before U.S. troop reductions take place. Therefore, I hope for implementation of the Five-Year Modernization Plan with its completion as soon as possible. I also desire help for ROK defense industries, which will build our self-reliance.

Japan’s Expanding Contacts with North Korea

I would now like to turn briefly to the Japan problem. The general trend in Japan is towards the left. The left-wing press and political circles are pressuring the Japanese Government, and the Japanese Government is making hasty approaches to North Korea. I hope the U.S. will use its influence to discourage these approaches. While maintenance of the military balance in Korea is important, maintenance of the political balance is just as important. Communist China and the Soviet Union are our neighbors. If Japan approaches North Korea, this would break the political balance, since, though we try hard to correct this situation, the Soviet Union and Communist China respond negatively to our approaches. We therefore urge the U.S. to discourage hasty Japanese approaches to the North.

I heard today, for example, that the Japanese Export-Import Bank is planning to loan North Korea a certain amount. This will help North Korean industry. Before, the Japanese Government found it difficult to check private contacts (contracts?) on a cash basis when receiving requests from the North. It said it would stop other official contacts (contracts?), however. But now the Japanese are opening up cooperation funds through Export-Import Bank loans. Apparently the Liberal Democratic Party cannot sustain its policies against the mounting pressures of the Socialist Party.

Park Requests U.S. Intervention with Moscow and Peking on Korean Problem

One other problem is how to get North Korea to change its militant policies. We need pressure on North Korea because, if they are left alone, problems will erupt on the Korean Peninsula, given the adventurous attitude of North Korea. We will try to continue our dialogue with the North, but that is not enough. Persuasion needs to be applied to the North, but it would be awkward for the U.S. to do this.

However, the North Koreans could be persuaded through Communist China or the Soviet Union. It would be better to have them do this.

[Page 07]

When you, Mr. President, meet with the Russians at Vladivostok and when Secretary Kissinger meets with the Chinese, I hope the sincere efforts of South Korea to establish peace will be brought to the Soviet and Chinese attention and they will be urged to exercise influence over North Korea.

South Korea’s Economic Problems

Next, I would like to turn to economic problems. Because of the current world economic situation, we have been having difficulties. We depend on others for our primary resources, but increases in prices threaten our international payments position, and it is difficult to expand exports. We are faced with lay-offs in our industries, increasing unemployment, and many other problems. I renew my tribute to your efforts to overcome the worldwide economic problems, since these will contribute to Korea’s economy. I particularly appreciate Secretary Kissinger’s speech in Chicago, in particular the favorable consideration given to Korea and other developing countries in solving their economic difficulties.

I have taken too much time in talking about our problems. Our people are keenly aware of the need to repay our debts to the United States. The best way is self-reliance through a more vigorous effort so that Korea can live without reliance on the U.S. in the future. But we will remain, as in the past, true allies and trustworthy partners.

Continuing U.S. Support for South Korea

President Ford: My purpose in coming to Korea is twofold. First, I wish to establish a personal relationship with the leader of a great country whom I have greatly admired and with the people of this country whom I have respected and admired over the years. My second purpose was to indicate clearly the continuity of U.S. policy in its relationship to Korea, and to indicate to the North Koreans that under no circumstances should they miscalculate and take actions based on the fact that a new administration has taken over in Washington. If the North Koreans will study my record in Congress, they will find that I supported President Truman in his response to North Korean aggression in 1950, and that I supported subsequent administrations, whether Democratic or Republican, that took firm stands on Korea. My record in Congress is one of strength. I supported actions to oppose aggression in Vietnam as I did in Korea.

When I return home, I will report to the American people and Congress that in my opinion it is vitally important for peace and stability throughout the whole world to support Korea and other like-minded nations seeking [Page 08] to build their countries economically and militarily so that they can become self-sufficient.

I will continue to urge Congress to support allies like South Korea because such actions are constructive in seeking a stable world. Frankly, however, Congress is not as cooperative as I would have hoped. We have some problems convincing Congress that adequate military and economic aid are in the best interests of peace, of our allies, and of the United States. But I will continue my efforts to urge Congress to do so.

The modernization plan will be continued and hopefully speeded up. But, I have problems with Congress. Some members have asked me to speak to you. Their attitude is to seek to give advice to sovereign nations. This attitude does have an adverse effect in trying to convince Congress to provide sufficient funds.

I should like to make several points. We reaffirm the modernization program. Next, we have no intention of withdrawing U.S. personnel from Korea. The joint efforts of the U.S. and Korean military are in the best interests of peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula. Further, I urge that the dialogue between the North and South continue, since peaceful coexistence is essential.

Our relations with the Soviet Union and the Peoples Republic of China are based on urging restraint in all parts of the world. Therefore, we will continue to urge both to have a continuing influence with their allies in restraining precipitous actions which would destroy regional or world stability.

Your continued strong leadership, Mr. President, is important for the North-South dialogue. It is our intention to have sufficient strength to negotiate from strength, not weakness.

In our discussions with the Japanese, we recommended a cautious, slow, and very deliberate relationship with North Korea. We told them that it would not be helpful to expand Japanese-North Korean relations on a rapid basis since that will destroy the balance necessary for constructive solutions of problems between the North and South. In our discussions over the last several days with Japan, we urged them not to expand relations with the North unless and until the Peoples Republic of China and the Soviet Union establish relations with the Republic of Korea.

The announcement this morning of the Export-Import Bank loan was opposed by the United States Government, since we did not think it in the best interests of the Republic of Korea.

[Page 09]

Secretary Kissinger: Mr. President, I believe this was not announced as a firm decision, but probably leaked as being under consideration. They did not tell us about it in advance, and I am astonished by the announcement in view of the present political situation in Japan.

President Ford: Let me rephrase my remarks. We have in the past opposed such actions and we will certainly do so in the future.

World Economic Outlook

With respect to the economic situation, we recognize the difficulties faced by the Republic of Korea as a result of the serious increase in oil prices and the unfortunate actions taken by the oil-producing countries. These actions are not in the best interests of a world so interdependent economically. Secretary Kissinger is trying to organize the oil consumers so that we will be better able to negotiate with the oil-producing nations. We have made substantial headway and already taken steps beneficial and helpful to the U.S. and others, like South Korea. We will maximize our efforts. The oil-consuming nations cannot afford the economic impact of the cost of oil. We face inflation and the great world monetary problems. Secretary Kissinger’s efforts are designed to develop a strong position vis-a-vis the oil producers and for dealing with the monetary distortions

At the present time, the United States faces difficult economic problems. The trend in the cost-of-living has been substantial increases, but it is now moderating. In 1974, the increase will be 11 to 12 percent; by the middle of next year, we expect the increase to be down to 6 or 7 percent, which is still too high but substantially improved.

We also face a serious recession or downturn in our economic situation, but this should be reversed by the middle of 1975. The analysis by my economic experts is that a short-term economic downturn will be followed by encouraging increases in growth by late 1975.

The program I have sent to the Congress is aimed at both moderating inflation and also providing remedies for the softening of sales in certain industries and increases in unemployment. It is a fine-honed program to meet inflation and recession. While Congress must make its own judgment, I hope to work out with Congress an agreed plan. Our economic plans also take into consideration the interdependence of the United States with the rest of the world. The difficulties faced are not only American problems but involve our relations with other countries of the world. I think our program will be successful.

[Page 10]

U.S. Bill Take Korean Question Up with PRC and Soviet Leaders

I would like to make two final points. First, during my visit with General Secretary Brezhnev I will urge him to exercise restraint on North Korea. I will ask Secretary Kissinger to do the same with the Peoples Republic of China. Second, even though we have been approached on contacts or negotiations with North Korea, we will not do so unless or until the Peoples Republic of China and the Soviet Union do the same with the Republic of Korea. There must be a comparable effort by them.

I want to thank you, Mr. President, for the opportunity for this frank and broad discussion. It has been very helpful to me, and I hope it has been likewise helpful to you. Finally, I will send you a report, through our Embassy, on my contacts and those of Secretary Kissinger with the Soviet Union and China.

Secretary Kissinger: When the Foreign Minister is in New York, I will ask Assistant Secretary Habib to see him there and fill in any gaps on our conversations with the Russians and the Chinese.

President Park: I reciprocate with my own deep appreciation for your frank and kind remarks, President Ford. They have been of great help to me.

Secretary Kissing: We should now agree with the President on the joint communiqué.

President Park: Yes, it is agreeable.

(After a brief exchange, it was agreed that the press briefing would be based upon the joint communiqué with some elaboration and that we would list the topics discussed and make very general comments. There would be no discussion of the efforts to urge restraint on the Chinese and Russians.)

Secretary Kissinger: We wish to note in our press briefing the warmth and pride in the reception given President Ford, which has cemented solidarity between the American and Korean people.

President Ford: The reception in Korea was the warmest, friendliest and largest I have received.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversation, Box 7. Secret; Nodis. The conversation took place in the Blue House. Ford visited South Korea November 21–22; his arrival speech, dinner toast, and the joint communiqué he issued with Park are in The Department of State Bulletin, Vol. LXXI, No. 1852, December 23, pp. 875–878.
  2. Park, Ford, and Kissinger discussed U.S. support for South Korea, the North Korean threat, North-South dialogue, Japan, the Soviet Union, China, and economic issues.