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U.S. Department of State

1964-1968, Volume XXIX

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Foreign Relations of the United States 1964-1968, Volume XXIX, Part 1 Korea

(This is not an official statement of policy by the Department of State; it is intended only as a guide to the contents of this volume.)

Since 1861, the Department of State's documentary series Foreign Relations of the United States has been the official record of the foreign policy and diplomacy of the United States. Historians in the Office of the Historian collect, arrange, and annotate the principal documents comprising the record of American foreign policy. The standards for the preparation of the series and the general deadlines for its publication were reestablished by the Foreign Relations of the United States statute of October 28, 1991 (22 USC 4351, et seq.) which called for publication of a full and accurate record at 30 years after the events covered. Volumes in the Foreign Relations series are published when all the necessary editing, declassification, and printing steps have been completed. In this case the editors felt that until declassification of important records relating to the Pueblo crisis was resolved, the volume would not meet its requirement for accuracy and comprehensiveness. That issue having been settled successfully, the volume is now being released.

The documents in this volume are drawn from the centralized indexed files of the Department of State and the decentralized Bureau, Office, and other lot files of the relevant Departmental units. The volume also includes records from the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency. In addition, the editor made extensive use of the Presidential and other papers at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin, Texas. Access to the recordings of President Johnson's telephone conversations at the Johnson Library resulted in the inclusion of transcripts or summaries of conversations with senior U.S. policymakers. The selected tape recordings deal almost exclusively with the President's involvement in the early days of the Pueblo crisis.

Almost all of the documents printed here were originally classified. The Information Response Branch of the Office of IRM Programs and Services, Bureau of Administration, Department of State, in concert with the appropriate offices in other agencies or governments, carried out the declassification of the selected documents.

The following is a summary of the most important issues covered in the volume. Parenthetical citations are to document numbers.

Republic of Korea

Although overwhelmingly preoccupied with hostilities in Southeast Asia, the Johnson administration also expended considerable time and effort on relations with the Republic of Korea (ROK). The first chapter of this volume documents bilateral relations between South Korea and the United States, 1964-1968, and underscores two main themes: the search for stability in the Korean peninsula and the Republic of Korea's growing sense of self-confidence. The attainment of these goals was not without difficulty. During 1964-1968, the Republic of Korea faced internal and external threats that jeopardized its security and shook its confidence. The internal crisis occurred in the spring and summer of 1964 with the eruption of student anti-government demonstrations targeted against the government of President Pak Chung Hee. (7, 8, 12) Like previous episodes of unrest, these large-scale public protests of 1964 led to the imposition of martial law and derailed for a time normalization talks with Japan. (13-15) President Pak reluctantly accepted U.S. advice that he needed to sever his ties with figures accused of corruption and personal enrichment in order to reduce the tensions threatening his government. (10, 16) In part as a result of U.S. encouragement and advice the internal crisis lessened.

The second threat to South Korea's security was posed by North Korea and was potentially equally explosive. While minor border incidents and fire fights were the norm along the 38th parallel, there was a discernable escalation in 1967. North Korean infiltration of the South intensified and resulted in several acts of sabotage against South Korean railways in September of that year. (119, 123, 127, 129, 130, 133, 138) By far the most serious and violent act occurred in January 1968, when a group of North Korean saboteurs assaulted the presidential palace, the Blue House, in the hopes of assassinating President Pak. (144, 146) Although the assassination plan failed, the bold attack on the presidential mansion left Pak and other Republic of Korea Government leaders angry, gravely shaken, and insistent upon retaliatory actions against the North. (145, 148) To make matters worse, just after the raid on the Blue House, North Korea seized the U.S. intelligence-gathering ship, USS Pueblo, and its crew. (158, 159)

The United States interceded on several fronts to prevent an escalation of violence and the outbreak of armed conflict in the Korean peninsula. President Johnson sent a special envoy, Cyrus Vance, to reassure President Pak, whose desire for retaliation seemed from Washington's point of view to be almost irrational. (164, 167-169, 171) Vance offered calm words, moral support, and, most importantly, promises of substantial increases in U.S. military assistance to enhance South Korean defenses. (175-179) At the same time, U.S. officials cautioned advisers to the Pak government and military leadership against any and all forms of retaliation against the North. (147, 151, 152, 154, 155, 157, 173) Although extremely frustrated by their inability to retaliate for the Blue House raid and suspicious of the U.S. decision to exclude South Korea from negotiations with North Korea to free the Pueblo and its crew, the South Koreans accepted U.S. advice against retaliation against the North. (180-182)

Even though the U.S.-ROK relationship was tested by the dual crises of the Blue House raid and the seizure of the Pueblo, overall relations between Washington and Seoul strengthened considerably during the Johnson presidency. During 1964-1968, Presidents Johnson and Pak met on a number of occasions, worked together closely and well, and developed a strong personal relationship. (48, 51, 94, 96, 139-141, 151, 152, 189, 194) One of the issues that fostered cooperation and strengthened relations between the United States and South Korea was Seoul's willingness to support U.S. policy in Vietnam and to contribute increasingly large numbers of troops and support units to the war effort in Southeast Asia. Strongly anti-Communist South Korea fully understood the stakes in Vietnam as defined by the Johnson administration. After the United States, South Korea became the principal military supporter of South Vietnam.

What began in 1964 as a modest involvement of a medical and a tae-kwan-do (martial arts) unit expanded each year to the point that by 1968 South Korea had approximately 45,000 men in Vietnam. (30, 32, 37, 39) The U.S. appetite for Korean troops was considerable. (41, 108, 110, 136, 137, 192) No sooner had the Koreans fulfilled one request from President Johnson for troops than another request was received, prompting the U.S. Ambassador to Korea to protest strongly to Washington. (79, 82, 93, 101, 117) For its part, Washington expected Korea's troop contribution to equal that of the United States in terms of percentage of the population engaged in fighting in Vietnam. The Johnson administration was more than prepared to pay the expenses of South Korean troops in South Vietnam, including special pay and death benefits. (43,75,112) In return for the ROK contribution in Vietnam, Washington furnished significant military equipment for use in South Korean defense. (78)

Participation in the war effort in Vietnam was not the only way South Korea expanded its influence in Asia. The ROK normalized relations with Japan. On its own initiative-although there was some behind-the-scenes encouragement from the United States-South Korea began institutionalized meetings with other Asian non-Communist countries to promote inter-Asian cooperation. First proposing the international meeting in 1964, the Koreans saw the fruition of their conception when the first Ministerial Meeting for Asian and Pacific Cooperation (ASPAC) convened in Seoul June 14-16, 1966. South Korea gained international attention from the success of the gathering, which developed into an established Asian institution. (20, 85)

In other ways, South Korea began to identify and promote its own interests. In negotiating a Status of Forces Agreement with the United States, South Korea insisted on terms recognizing its sovereignty and equaling those granted to NATO allies. (21, 36, 38, 45, 70, 83, 84, 88) South Korean leaders also insisted on participating in the economic gains expected from the Vietnam war. Arguing that Japan's miraculous economic development was sparked by opportunities provided by the Korean war, South Korea now wanted its share of development and hoped that the requirements of the Vietnam war effort would work as a catalyst. (59) Korea asked for and received preference as a source for procurement of equipment and materials needed for the military effort in Vietnam, which helped spur the ROK economy.

The Pueblo Crisis

When North Korean naval forces seized the intelligence-gathering vessel USS Pueblo and its crew on January 23, 1968, they created a serious crisis for the Johnson administration. (212) Although the Pueblo was attacked and captured in international waters, the North Koreans insisted that the "spy ship" had violated their territorial waters and used that claim to justify retention of the ship and incarceration of the crew. Despite evidence to the contrary, including public release of texts of U.S. radio intercepts of North Korean communications delineating the location of the Pueblo, the North Koreans never wavered from their version of events. North Korea's Communist allies, particularly the Soviet Union, also adhered to that position.

Upon learning of the capture of the ship and crew, President Johnson and leaders of the diplomatic, defense, and intelligence agencies of the U.S. Government met in lengthy, often intense sessions to determine exactly what happened, to examine the available options, and to decide how best to achieve the release of the crew and, if possible, the return of the ship. The records of these National Security Council-level meetings reveal that while the administration considered a number of possible military responses, including the bombing and mining of North Korea, it soon realized that armed retaliation was out of the question. The United States could not fight on a second front in Asia. Already deeply engaged in Vietnam and in the throes of the Tet offensive, the United States could not risk a military confrontation with North Korea to try to rescue the ship and/or crew members. In short, despite examining various options U.S. officials concluded that they had little choice but to negotiate with the North Koreans for release of the Pueblo crew, and they pursued a strategy that tried to coordinate diplomacy and military shows of force that would not lead to fighting. (213, 217, 218, 220, 221, 223, 225, 226, 228, 242, 244, 248, 252, 258)

As the documents in this second chapter indicate, the United States backed up its negotiations with North Korea with a three-pronged approach: diplomatic efforts pursued in the United Nations and by direct worldwide appeal for support for release of the ship and its crew; back-channel contacts with Moscow to encourage the Soviets to use their influence on North Korea; and a restrained show of force by sending additional U.S. aircraft carriers and battleships into the Sea of Japan and air support units to South Korea. (224, 229-231, 238, 240, 245, 285, 286)

Negotiations between U.S. and North Korean representatives began the day following the seizure of the Pueblo at a meeting previously scheduled to protest the Blue House raid. Both sides agreed to hold closed meetings specifically called to address the Pueblo matter. Over the course of 1968 a total of 29 meetings were held at the site of the armistice talks in Panmunjom. The record of the tortuous negotiations with the North Koreans throughout the year reveals the limits on the power of the United States in attempting to deal with an intransigent North Korea.

The meetings at Panmunjom began with both sides far apart. The North Koreans insisted that the United States accept complete responsibility by admitting its ship violated North Korean territorial waters in order to spy on North Korea. The United States denied both charges and advocated the principle of freedom of the seas and the rights of ships in international waters. Negotiations were made more difficult by the inability of the North Korean representative to respond to questions or proposals without reference to a pre-approved text or position. The first hint of a breakthrough in the impasse occurred in May 1968 when the North Koreans submitted the text of admissions that, if signed and accepted by the United States, could win release of the crew. Because the Johnson administration found the admission portion unacceptable and because the North Koreans refused to modify it, the negotiations remained deadlocked. (306, 308, 312, 314)

In November U.S. negotiators warned the North Koreans that time was running out. After the U.S. presidential election the United States would make just one more attempt to settle the issue before turning the matter over to the incoming, and reputedly more hard-line, Nixon administration. (324) The North Koreans eventually accepted the U.S. ploy to end the crisis, "a pre-repudiated apology." (317) The Johnson administration signed the text of admissions on December 23, 1968, not as an acknowledgment of wrongdoing, but merely as a receipt for taking custody of the crew members. Washington got the crew; Pyongyang got its admission of guilt for propaganda purposes. (326-327) The United States promptly repudiated the document after the release of the 82 surviving members of the Pueblo crew. The release of the crew set in train a series of reappraisals of the problems incurred by systematic maltreatment of prisoners, the conduct of the Pueblo's captain and officers, procedures for protecting classified information in such an incident, and the loss of the ship's files and equipment as a possible compromise of national intelligence capabilities. (331)

While the documentation presented in the volume illuminates Washington's internal deliberations during the Pueblo crisis, it does not and cannot definitively answer the fundamental question of why the North Koreans seized the vessel and crew and what were their intentions towards the South. Some U.S. intelligence estimates and reports included in the volume suggest that Pyongyang saw the Vietnam war as an opportunity to challenge the United States, knowing that the United States was overextended in Southeast Asia and lacked the ability to respond. The North Koreans could have hoped to disrupt relations between Washington and Seoul or, perhaps, to have started a series of events that might have paved the way for the collapse of South Korea, thus succeeding where the Blue House raid failed. (184, 200, 204, 215, 219) Without recourse to North Korean or other revealing documentation from Moscow or Beijing, it is impossible to know the other side's motivation.

Japan-Republic of Korea Settlement

A third chapter of the volume is devoted to Japanese and Korean efforts, encouraged by the United States, to settle differences remaining from World War II and enter into a new era of mutual cooperation. Stalled treaty negotiations were resumed early in the Johnson administration with renewed dedication and determination on all sides. (332-338) Negotiations were interrupted in 1964 by violent student demonstrations in South Korea protesting what the students perceived as corruption in the negotiation process. (339, 341) Korean reluctance to compromise was a constant problem, but President Johnson, Secretary Rusk, and the U.S. Ambassadors to Japan and Korea convinced the Koreans that a settlement was in their interest and urged the Japanese to persevere in the negotiation process. (345-349, 356, 358)

A bilateral treaty would also advance U.S. interests: Washington saw that a normalization of relations would reduce Korean insecurity, enhance regional stability and cooperation, and shift a portion of Korean economic assistance onto the Japanese. With Washington suasion, the Republic of Korea and Japan agreed on the terms of a settlement. Concerned that some narrowly focused Korean politicians could scuttle the agreement, the United States worked behind the scenes to promote ratification of the treaty by the National Assembly in Seoul. (366) On June 22, 1965, the respective Foreign Ministers signed the text of the Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea, as well as five additional agreements covering specific issues. (365) The treaty was ratified by the legislatures of both countries and went into effect on December 18, 1965.

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