Carter documents show how the US reacted when it had a South Korea problem in the 70s

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tags: South Korea



 President Jimmy Carter entered office in 1977 determined to draw down U.S. forces in South Korea and to address that nation’s stark human rights conditions, but he met surprising pushback on these and related issues from both South Korean President Park Chung Hee and his own top American advisers, as described in declassified records published today by the National Security Archive at The George Washington University.

Carter made no secret of his deep misgivings about Park’s suppression of his political opposition. When the two met for a summit in June 1979, Park attempted to turn the tables, lecturing Carter rhetorically: “If dozens of Soviet divisions were deployed in Baltimore, the U.S. Government could not permit its people to enjoy the same freedoms they do now.” 

At the same time, senior U.S. officials including Cabinet officers tried to put the brakes on U.S. troop withdrawals and other policy initiatives such as holding tripartite talks with the two Koreas. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael H. Armacost complained to Defense Secretary Harold Brown before the summit that the latter was a “lousy idea,” a “loser” and “gimmicky.” The president faced similar resistance from a range of American officials on the ground in South Korea.

Carter was forced to postpone troop reductions for a time while continuing to press for political liberalization. But his challenge grew appreciably greater after Park’s October 1979 assassination by of the head of the Korean CIA, and a subsequent coup in December of that year by strongman General Chun Doo Hwan.




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