94. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Summary Minutes of the April 11, 1978 Meeting on Korea and China


  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State
  • Harold Brown, Secretary of Defense
  • Richard Holbrooke, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs
  • David Aaron, National Security Council
  • Morton Abramowitz, Deputy Assistant Secretary, East Asian and Pacific Affairs for ISA
  • Michael Armacost, Staff Member, National Security Council
  • Michel Oksenberg, Staff Member, National Security Council

I. Korea

Dr. Brzezinski: Each of the items on the agenda falls under a particular person’s jurisdiction, so let’s have different people lead the discussion for each topic. Harold, why don’t you lead the discussion on Korea?

Secretary Brown: The key situation involves the Hill, where the prospects for obtaining the compensatory package which we initially sought are not good. Lester Wolff is talking of $400 million, O’Neill wants the whole Korea problem to go away, Zablocki is for the whole package but is dubious of his ability to get it. Meanwhile, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will begin hearings on Monday, and will act on FMS. The Kim problem remains. Jaworski’s attitude is firm, but Duncan is a friend of Jaworski and may try to talk to him.2

Secretary Vance: Don’t have him do that. The more pressure on Leon, the more he digs in. We must keep working on him indirectly. If we can get him to answer questions under oath in Korea, then Leon might accept it. That is not impossible. There may be a long-run solution to the Jaworski problem, but we must assume for purposes of today’s discussions that the problem will continue during the coming months.

[Page 340]

Secretary Brown: There are four options.3 The fourth one is out, and Option 1 is what Carter leans to. But it is not clear that that option is viable on the Hill, and even if it were, it would come at considerable cost to our credibility in East Asia.

Dr. Brzezinski: I do not understand why Option 1 would have a negative reaction with the Chinese.

Secretary Vance: The way I see it, this is a no-win proposition. If the President delays, then he intensifies his image as a vacillator at home. If the President persists with the reduction, he loses in his credibility abroad. But if the Congress took the initiative—say the leadership came to the President and requested delay in the reductions—then the Congress would be in front and the President would be seen as concurring with the Congressional initiative.

Mr. Holbrooke: If we followed the Stratton compromise—at least a portion of it, namely a partial transfer—we could go along. But there are two problems:

—There is no guarantee of success. The Stratton compromise may not pass.

—If the President goes Option 1, then he will be hard hit on the Hill. Option 3 will help in Congress. The only support which has been viewed for the President’s policy and for withdrawals even without the compensatory package has been voiced by Steve Solarz.

Secretary Brown: Option 2 goes better with normalization. Option 3 is possible, but one cannot do it with normalization.

Dr. Brzezinski: Why not Option 1? Why isn’t Option 1 compatible with normalization?

Mr. Oksenberg: For two reasons:

—Our credibility in East Asia will suffer, and we must move forward on normalization against a strong posture in the region.

—Second, any promises we make to Taiwan about post-normalization relations with it will ring hollow.

Mr. Abramowitz: With Option 1, we also will face the resignation of our military commander. Vessey is likely to resign under those circumstances. Second, we will lose the JCS.

Mr. Aaron: Why delay? The watchword of this Administration is becoming “delay.” Let’s get to the heart of this matter. Congress is playing for a veto over the troop reduction. It is opposed to the President’s policy.

Secretary Brown: That is not correct. The Congressional attitude is due to a combination of factors. If it were just the withdrawal, there [Page 341] would be no problem. The withdrawal has become linked with “Koreagate.”4 With the passage of time, the mood on the Hill will change.

Mr. Holbrooke: That is correct. I have talked to the Congressional people daily. I have breakfast with Congressmen every morning. The issue is not the withdrawal but the Tongsun Park affair. Because of “Koreagate,” Congressmen fear political retribution at the polls if they vote for any sort of aid to Korea this year.

Secretary Brown: One has to recognize the military consequences of taking out our first combat forces. They guard key mountain passes. When they have been taken out, if adequately armed replacements do not take their place, we will be susceptible to conservative charges in the U.S. that we are threatening the safety of the remaining two brigades. The entire brigade must be removed within a month. We cannot leave a portion of the brigade there. If a portion is withdrawn, how secure will the other portion be? If the equipment has not been transferred to the Koreans, then the Koreans will not be able to take the place of the withdrawn American forces.

Mr. Holbrooke: That is the key point. If the U.S. arms remain in our possession and cannot be transferred to the Koreans, once our brigade is withdrawn a gap will exist. There is no easy solution to this problem. Lead time is required in order to transfer the equipment to the Koreans and train them to use it.

Mr. Aaron: Can’t that training of Korean forces go on anyway? If there is an emergency, the President could hand over the equipment immediately. And if there is an emergency, the U.S. troops that have been withdrawn could immediately be returned.

Mr. Abramowitz: But the question of deterrence remains. And combat capability of the Koreans would be reduced until the arms are actually in their hands.

Mr. Aaron: Let’s be clear about one thing. It is not the President but Congress which is not fulfilling our commitment. Congress is not leading. The President remains credible on this issue. We cannot announce a delay of the planned first reduction which would in any manner enhance the President’s credibility. We will never be able to get Congress to vote for the compensatory package, because the fact is that Congress does not want the withdrawal.

Mr. Holbrooke: But that is not the way it would be perceived in East Asia. The question is whether the President is in command of his own house. We can’t tell East Asians that the President is credible and [Page 342] the lack of American credibility is with the Congress. That simply underscores the weakness of the President.

Dr. Brzezinski: This may have been the wrong decision, but now it has been made. We cannot afford to go back on it.

Mr. Armacost: Option 2 does not advocate a change in policy. The policy is to reduce all combat forces within five years. We are not recommending a change in that policy. We are recommending additional backloading of the withdrawal.

Mr. Holbrooke: It is wrong to say that Congress does not want to withdraw. Particularly the bulk of the new people in the House are very much for the withdrawal. But at least 100 votes in the House have been lost on the compensatory package simply because of Koreagate. Because of the atmosphere this year. Further, to proceed with withdrawal without the compensatory package would torpedo a normalization effort. Normalization will then be seen as part of a retreat policy from East Asia.

Mr. Armacost: The only reason the Japanese eventually were brought along was because of the compensatory package. To proceed without it will have extraordinarily adverse consequences in Japan.

Secretary Vance: I share all these concerns. We also must recognize we are running out of time with this Congress before it adjourns. The agenda is heavy; the arms sales package in the Middle East, energy, the Greek-Turkey issue, the Canal, and so on. If we could get the leadership to come to us and request us to delay the first withdrawal, if Byrd 5 Baker, Zablocki, and O’Neill ask us to do this, then I think it will not be perceived as additional Presidential vacillation but as a Presidential response to Congressional pleas.

Dr. Brzezinski: Why couldn’t the Presidential response to such a Congressional plea be that while we will withdraw, we will only withdraw a part of a brigade? And we would extract a firm commitment from the leadership on the Hill that the compensatory package issue would be forthrightly addressed as soon as the new Congress convenes. That way the President would be able to indicate his continued resolve to proceed with the withdrawal.

Mr. Holbrooke: But the price of a partial removal without compensatory measures still would be too high. It would still cause great consternation in Japan, for example.

Dr. Brzezinski: Well, perhaps we should send a message to the Japanese on this. Look, I have been a strong advocate of an equal partner[Page 343]ship with the Japanese. But I must say that on the Korean matter, the Japanese have been as helpful as the Germans on the neutron bomb. As far as I am concerned, we should begin on schedule. I know I am going against my Asian experts on this, but I think that the President cannot change his decision. He must begin as scheduled, but he could slow down the pace of withdrawing the first brigade. How many battalions are in a brigade?

Secretary Vance: Three, except in a reinforced brigade, which has four.

Dr. Brzezinski: Fine. Then the President could announce, perhaps in response to Congressional urging, that he will withdraw but one battalion in December. He will withdraw a second battalion in, say, March and a third battalion in May. In my opinion, delay—Option 2—is worse than a slowed-down and stretched-out withdrawal.

Mr. Armacost: But this does not remove a contentious issue from a crowded agenda. In fact, this proposal may make the issue even more contentious, for the Chiefs may claim that we are endangering the remaining American forces and demonstrably lowering our preparedness on the Peninsula.

Mr. Holbrooke: The Brzezinski proposal would also initiate withdrawals without any quid pro quo to the ROK. We still are going against our commitments to the Koreans.

Mr. Aaron: How about when it comes to Taiwan? If the President demonstrates that lack of Congressional action can deter him from a course of action to which he is committed, then won’t Congress believe it can exercise a veto power on normalization as well?

Mr. Abramowitz: Our discussion has proceeded on the assumption that FMS will be voted. What if that promise is also not fulfilled?

Mr. Holbrooke: If we select Option 2, Bennett believes we will be able to get the $275 million in FMS from Congress. If we pursue another option, FMS may also become vulnerable.

Secretary Brown: We are, in brief, playing “chicken with Congress.” I am not opposed to that if one feels confident one has the votes and the capacity to deliver. But I am not sure that situation exists. We seem to be willing to act more firmly with Congress than with the Russians.

Dr. Brzezinski: Precisely what has the President pledged to do?

Secretary Brown: He has stated that we would withdraw 6000 military personnel by the end of 1978, including one combat brigade. In fact, nearly 3000 support troops have already been withdrawn, and all that remains to be withdrawn is the combat brigade. We could use the withdrawals of the support forces as indication of the President’s determination to pursue this course.

[Page 344]

Dr. Brzezinski: Well, the question is whether the President is willing to defer the withdrawal of the entire brigade and perhaps take out one battalion instead, postponing the withdrawal of the remaining battalions by at least three months. This is the option to which I am inclined.

Secretary Brown: I support Option 2.

Secretary Vance: I support Option 2.

II. China Policy

Secretary Vance: The paper has outlined the strategy for normalization. What is the reaction to it?

Secretary Brown: Are the State lawyers absolutely satisfied that we now understand the problem in all its dimensions?

Mr. Holbrooke: The lawyers are fairly certain that they understand the situation. Barry Goldwater will challenge the validity of terminating a treaty without Senate approval. Ultimately, this will culminate in a debate on the Senate floor. We also will have some sort of a law suit on our hands.

Dr. Brzezinski: In short, we will be confronted by the need to muster a majority.

Mr. Holbrooke: Yes. That is correct.

Secretary Vance: Here is the likely set of events I see. There is a 50 percent chance that by the end of July we will have signed a SALT agreement, and it is not clear we should seek immediate ratification. The issue then arises as to whether we should proceed swiftly with the China issue in 1978. The President and the Vice President lean to an earlier rather than later date. It should be done before the end of 1978, so it can be out of the way before SALT. Those who were opposed to us on Panama can then beat us on China—speak against us, possibly vote against us. Having demonstrated their conservative credentials, they could then turn to SALT in a more open frame of mind.

Mr. Aaron: But can Congress hold normalization up? This has the potential of making Panama look like a tea party.

Mr. Holbrooke: There are two danger points, as I see it: (1) the Goldwater challenge; and (2) whether effort to find a suitable alternative to our present security commitment to Taiwan is acceptable to the Hill. There are three ways that have been recommended for normalization: first, the Woodcock proposal—simply present the Congress with a fait accompli. The President would announce that we have established diplomatic relations with the PRC, and he is requesting action from Congress to make sure that our ties with Taiwan remain unimpaired. Second, the President could announce that on a certain date—say in 60 days—we will establish diplomatic relations with the PRC. He would [Page 345] announce that he is sending legislation that would enable full ties to be retained with Taiwan. Unless this legislation was passed in timely fashion, our relations with Taiwan would become threatened. Third, the President could announce he is prepared to recognize Peking as soon as Congress passes the requisite legislation.

Dr. Brzezinski: What are the Chinese three demands again?

Mr. Oksenberg: That we sever diplomatic relations with Taiwan, withdraw all military forces from Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait, and abrogate the Defense Treaty.

Dr. Brzezinski: What does abrogation mean?

Secretary Vance: Well, we won’t use the word abrogation. It will lapse. We cannot have a mutual defense treaty with an entity with which we do not have diplomatic relations.

Secretary Brown: Are we sure about that?

Mr. Holbrooke: Yes.

Mr. Aaron: What is the rush? I have heard the argument that Taiwan is our hostage and that we have something that Peking wants. Once it gets normalization, then we lose some of our attraction to them, and then they may be more inclined to move to the Soviets. Isn’t it useful to retain Taiwan as a way of securing leverage over Peking?

Secretary Brown: But our relations with Taiwan will remain. The PRC is not going to get Taiwan back.

Mr. Aaron: I am skeptical that we cannot improve relations with the PRC without normalization. How about other measures, security ties, intelligence sharing, technology transfer?

Mr. Oksenberg: It may be possible to expand our relations with China independent of normalization, but if one is worried about SALT and about playing upon Moscow’s deepest fears, then those are the measures that would do the trick.

Mr. Aaron: I still do not see what the rush is. Why not wait until the second term? What are the strategic benefits to be derived from normalization?

Secretary Vance: I have talked with the President and the Vice President recently about this. The answer of both the President and the Vice President is that the conservative element, they believe, increasingly favors moving in this direction. The strength of this opinion is increasing. The President has had recent conversations with Talmadge and Scoop6 and concludes that normalization will help him. I previously thought that normalization should occur after the elections. But this is a political judgment to which I defer to the President.

[Page 346]

Mr. Oksenberg: I am not sure about Scoop.

Dr. Brzezinski: In my opinion, the President’s view is correct, but only if SALT has gone badly. If a SALT agreement has been reached, then normalization will not be seen by the conservatives as anti-Soviet, but as an additional sign of our general weakness.

Mr. Aaron: Certain conservative Democrats may respond favorably, but the Republicans will not be with us on this issue. As the 1980 election approaches, they will be seeking their issues. I am concerned that this thing will get unraveled, that it cannot be easily managed on the Hill. The fact is that we are likely to get a SALT agreement.

Mr. Holbrooke: In talking about the Soviet Union and China, the President has two objectives: to reach a SALT agreement and to normalize relations with the PRC. Our objective should be to recreate the phenomena of 1971–1972, when moves toward both the Soviet Union and China were seen as reinforcing and were politically helpful pursued together.

Dr. Brzezinski: We could do it at that time because Nixon was perceived by the American public as anti-Soviet and the Vietnam War was still going on.

Secretary Brown: The key here is that we must remain less at odds with China and the Soviet Union than they are with each other. If the President does not normalize by early 1979, then we may not be able to normalize until the second term, with all the attendant risks entailed.

Mr. Abramowitz: That is the great problem with normalization and has been for 25 years. Now never seems to be the time. One should seize the opportunity when it arises.

Dr. Brzezinski: But we should explore other ways of enhancing the relationship and expand our consultative dialogue as well.

Mr. Abramowitz: But unless we convey our seriousness about normalization, we cannot get an adequate response.

Secretary Vance: The decision is Presidential, whether to move rapidly or to delay until after the 1978 elections.

Dr. Brzezinski: Tentatively, I am for after the 1978 elections.

Secretary Brown: What if there is a dramatic swing against the Administration during the elections?

Mr. Abramowitz: For 20 years we have been immobilized on this issue.

Secretary Vance: My problem is not with the conservatives but with the two-China types, those who are concerned with the human rights of the Taiwanese—the position of Case and Javits.

Mr. Aaron: Still, the question is what do we gain out of normalization?

[Page 347]

Secretary Brown: Put it this way, if we sign SALT and there is not movement on China, then our posture toward the two will be out of kilter.

Mr. Holbrooke: But we cannot defend normalization as anti-Soviet.

Secretary Brown: That would be implicit. We have to discuss where we have parallel interests with the Chinese, and we have to demonstrate that there is substance to these parallel interests.

Secretary Vance: The four of you who put this paper together should prepare a refined analysis on the politics of normalization for the President setting forth three options for normalization: before the elections, after the elections, or postponing until the second term. The international and domestic political dimension of each option should be sketched out.

III. Arms Sales to the ROC

Dr. Brzezinski: I am for Option 3: F–5Es minus the Harpoon.

Secretary Vance: Yes. The F–4 goes too far.

Mr. Abramowitz: I am for the F–4s. First of all, we do not really know what the PRC reaction will be. Second, we must recognize that this is possibly the last sale of new equipment to the ROC before normalization. It will be especially difficult to get new types of arms sales through State after normalization. The F–4s will keep them going ten to fifteen years. It will enable us to finish our old commitments and possibly will be read in Peking as a sign of our seriousness.

Mr. Holbrooke: But will it be seen as a last sale, or as an indication of the type of sales that we will be making post-normalization?

Mr. Abramowitz: The constraints on post-normalization sales will be very great.

Dr. Brzezinski: In fact, I am inclined to agree with that.

Secretary Brown: I will talk to Jones about this issue. We should have a meeting with the Chiefs and with Stan Turner to decide this issue. I am inclined to the F–4s, but the fact that Kissinger had earlier pledged not to sell F–4s is an important consideration. Let us have a meeting swiftly to decide this issue.

IV. Technology Transfer

Secretary Vance: I have come around to recognizing the need for new language. I accept Option 1. However, I do not believe it should be made the subject of a PD. Rather, it should be incorporated in some minutes for Presidential approval.

Dr. Brzezinski: Yes. Let’s do it that way.

Secretary Brown: Now that we have worked our way through the agenda, how does the Korean issue appear? How is the reduction related to our normalization effort?

[Page 348]

Dr. Brzezinski: On postponement versus stretch-out, you mean?

Secretary Brown: Yes, we should not make uncompensated withdrawals from Taiwan and Korea simultaneously.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 43, Meetings: 1–3/78. Secret. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room.
  2. There were two Congressmen named Duncan at this time: Robert B. Duncan (D–Oregon) and John J. Duncan (R–Tennessee).
  3. The options are set out in Document 92.
  4. “Koreagate” was the name given to the political scandal in which South Korean political figures were accused of bribing members of the U.S. Congress.
  5. There were two Senators named Byrd at this time: Harry Flood Byrd, Jr. (I–Virginia) and Robert C. Byrd (D–West Virginia). Most likely this reference is to the latter.
  6. Senator Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson (D–Washington).