Negotiations - 24 January 1968
Panmunjom, the DMZ Korea
At 11AM on January 24 Rear Admiral John Victor Smith, USN, entered the metal-roofed meeting hut in Panmunjom, sat down at the green-felt covered table and stared across the DMZ at Major General Pak Chung Kuk, the North Korean negotiator. Because Smith, as chief negotiator UN Command, had called this two hundred and sixty first meeting of the Military Armistice Commission he was entitled to speak first. He protested the "heinous" Blue House raid and played a tape of a captured North Korean assassins confession. Pak fidgeted uneasily in his chair. "I want to tell you, Pak, that the evidence against you North Korean Communists is overwhelming… I now have one more subject to raise which is also of an extremely serious nature. It concerns the criminal boarding and seizure of … Pueblo in international waters. It is necessary that your regime do the following: One, return the vessel and crew immediately; two, apologize to the Government of the United States for this illegal action. You are advised that the United States reserves the right to ask for compensation under international law."
"Our saying goes, ‘A mad dog barks at the moon,’" Pak began. "I cannot but pity you who are compelled to behave like a hooligan, disregarding even your age and honor to accomplish the crazy intentions of the war maniac Johnson for the sake of bread and dollars to keep your life. In order to sustain your life, you probably served Kennedy who is already sent to hell. If you want to escape from the same fate of Kennedy, who is now a putrid corpse, don’t indulge yourself desperately in invectives…" Pak shuffled his documents. "Around 1215 hours on January 23 your side committed the crude, aggressive act of illegally infiltrating the armed spy ship Pueblo of the US imperialist aggressor navy equipped with various weapons and all kinds of equipment for espionage into the coastal waters of our side. Our naval vessels returned the fire of the piratical group….. At the two hundred and sixtieth meeting of this commission held four days ago, I again registered a strong protest with your side against having infiltrated into our coastal waters a number of armed spy boats…and demanded you immediately stop such criminal acts…this most overt act of the US imperialist aggressor forces was designed to aggravate tension in Korea and precipitate another war of aggression…." Pak listed his government’s demands. The United States must admit that Pueblo had entered North Korean waters, must apologize for this intrusion, must assure the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea that it would never happen again. "I will investigate any reasonable allegations" Smith replied, "but I will not be diverted by your tactics, I propose a recess." "I accept your proposal for a recess," Pak said. And so began the negotiations for the release of the crew of the USS PUEBLO.
By March 4 the United States and North Korea had met ten times at Panmunjom. General Pak had finally provided the names of the dead and wounded from Pueblo. Nothing else had been settled. He also provided proof of Pueblo’s intrusions. It consisted primarily of Pueblo’s navigational records and working logs. One fix placed the ship 32 miles inland; another credited Pueblo with a speed of over 2500 knots. The North Koreans insisted, "the US must admit, apologize, assure" - accept the "Three A’s."
In late April Admiral Smith was nearing the end of his six-month tour as chief UN Negotiator at Panmunjom. Chosen to succeed him was US Army Major General Gilbert H. Woodward.
On May 8, at the sixteenth private meeting between the two countries, General Pak gave General Woodward a document which, in substance, had not and would not change over the months. It cited the "Three A’s" as the only basis for a settlement and went on to denounce the United States for a whole host of "crimes." Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Warnke, along with Under Secretary of State Nicholas Katzenbach, thought the US should sign it. "I thought it was so outrageous - you could sign it", said Warnke. Dean Rusk and Walt Rostow opposed signing it, as it might be a trap. President Johnson settled the argument. "I don’t want this," he said.
Throughout the summer there had been no progress at all. The North Koreans held fast to their May 8 formula. Now Nicholas Katzenbach thought he saw a way to break the deadlock. Suppose the United States were to phrase it’s question differently, to ask, for example, "If I acknowledge receipt of the crew on a document satisfactory to you as well as to us, would you then be prepared to release all of the crew?" On the surface it didn’t appear to be very different from what the United States had asked before.
On August 29 General Woodward conferred with Pak for nearly two hours at Panmunjom. "Well, we have already told you what you must sign," Pak said. The North Korean hadn’t rejected the simultaneity aspect; he simply hadn’t addressed it directly.
On September 17 Woodward tried again. "If you will sign our document, something might be worked out" Pak said. The barriers were beginning to crumble.
On September 30 Woodward and Pak met again. "If you will sign the document," Pak said, "we will at the same time turn over the men." The North Koreans had agreed to simultaneity. One final order of business remained: the nature of the document. "We do not feel it is just to sign a paper saying we have done something we haven’t done. However, in the interest of reuniting the crew with their families, we might consider an ‘acknowledge receipt’" on a North Korean paper, Woodward said. Pak seemed interested. But did he understand the difference between "sign" and "acknowledge receipt." The State Department was worried; "you better straighten him out, show him at the next meeting exactly how you plan to do it" Korea country director James Leonard told Woodward.
At the twenty-third private meeting on October 10 Woodward and Pak reviewed details of the release. Woodward proceeded to show Pak precisely how he planned to execute his part of the bargain. Woodward showed Pak, "I will write here that I hereby acknowledge receipt of eighty-two men and one corpse…." Pak became startled, he wasn’t expecting that at all. As feared, Pak had obviously come to equate the words "sign" with "acknowledge receipt." "You are employing sophistries and petty stratagems to escape responsibility for the crimes which your side committed" Pak trumpeted.
On October 23 the two sides met again for three hours and seventeen minutes. Woodward continued to press for the "overwrite" device while Pak continued his vitriolic attacks on "petty stratagems."
The State Department’s hopes for some sort of compromise crumbled on October 31. Both sides restated their positions, then Pak stood up and left the room.
General Woodward’s six-month tour as chief UN Negotiator was coming to a close. He decided to stay on. "After coming this far, I was sort of enmeshed in the thing, I’ll see it through no matter how long it takes."
Eleanor Leonard comes to the rescue…… In late November the State Department’s Korea country chief, James Leonard was worried. There had been no meetings since October 31 and it was the North Korean’s turn to ask for the next one. Throughout the fall he had written a number of "scenerios"; "suppose we say such and such…. That gives them the following three choices….. then we reply by saying…….." He always came back to the fact that there couldn’t be any deception. One Sunday at home as he worked on his problem Eleanor Leonard replied simply "If you make it clear beforehand, that your signature is on a false document, well, then you remove the deception." On December 9 a cable was sent to Woodward; suggest both the "overwrite" and the "prior refutation" schemes. Point out that unless General Pak responded positively to one of these proposals, the United States would withdraw them. There would be no further negotiations and the North Koreans would have to deal with the incoming Nixon administration
On December 17 Woodward met Pak for the first time in forty-seven days. Woodward explained the "overwrite" and the "Leonard proposal." Christmas was approaching. This was a traditional and significant holiday for Americans. President Johnson wanted the men to be home with their families. Then he added an ultimatum suggested by Nicholas Katzenbach, unless Pak accepted one or the other of these offers, there would be no point in…… For the first time since the talks began nearly a year before, Pak suggested a recess. Fifty minutes later, presumably after telephoning Pyongyang for instructions, he returned to the table. "I note that you will sign my document," he said.
"We have reached agreement."
Excerpts from Trevor Armbrister's Matter of Accountability
Copyright © 2018 USS PUEBLO Veteran's Association. All rights reserved.
Major General Pak Chung Kuk (l)
(from NK propagada film courtey CBS news)
(courtesy Rose Bucher)
US negotiators enter the Panmunjom meeting "hut"
Editor's note: The September 30 meeting preceeded the Koreans turning up the charm on the PUEBLO crew. "Trips" were made to the circus and the Sinchon horror museum. Early October also was the time of the "Gypsy Tea Room."
The 333rd day. December 23, 1968
Gen. Woodward signs release agreement
The day count. Published daily on the front page of the San Diego Union.
(courtesy Rose Bucher)
Under Secretary of State
(White House photo)
James F. Leonard
1968 US State Dept., Korea country chief
1977-1979 US Ambassador to UN
(the Woodrow Wilson Center)
Forged North Korean
NBC Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In show