U.S. Under Secretary of State Philip Habib, who arrived today to discuss withdrawal of American ground troops from South Korea with President Park Chung Hee, has arranged to meet Wednesday with Kim Kwan Suk, a leading critic of the government, opposition sources said.
A spokesman for the U.S. embassy, which been criticized by some Koreans for taking a hand-off position toward political dissent in South Korea, that a meeting between Habib and Kim has been scheduled.
"However, Mr. Habib will be seeing a wide cross-section of Koreans," the embassy press officer added.
Kim, who was once jailed by President Park is secretary general of the Protestant Korean National Council of Churches which has been in the forefront of opposition to Park's authoritarian government.
In an airport arrival statement, Habib reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea. With Gen. George S. Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at his side, Habib said he was reiterating at President Carter's request the promise of a carefully phased withdrawal that "will maintain the military balance and preserve security on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia."
A meeting between Habib and Kim would revive hope of U.S. support for the human-rights struggle here among dissidents who have shown growing dissatisfaction with the U.S. embassy and, to a leader extent, with the Carter administration.
The Christian-led opposition to Park's rule has come under mounting repression, and some of the 60 persons arrested last month in the most recent crackdown were beaten and subjected to physical and psychological torture, according to reliable sources.
Kim is expected to give Habib a strongly worded attack on the Park government developed by 60 delegates to a Council of Churches conference two weeks ago. One resolution blames the United States for the division of Korea and criticizes its "immoral support for a non-democratic form of government."
The churchmen condemned economic development achieved at the expense of freedom, human rights and democracy as "meaningless" and called for the release of political prisoners and an end to repressive measures.
Kim, a moderate and nationally respected human-rights leader, was imprisoned for six months in 1975 for allegedly embezzling Christian aid funds, although an official of the German-based organization Bread for the World testified there was no possible objection to how the funds had been used.
Kim's son, Kim Ha Pum, 21, was arrested last month and faces a possible death sentence under the nation's broadly drawn anti-Communist statute.
The younger Kim and four other students from the Hankook Theological Seminary allegedly denounced the Park rule as "a vicious, repressive government" that perpetuates the division of North and South Korea.
A rash of small-scale and peaceful campus demonstrations ended with the arrest and impending prosecution of the leaders under a presidential emergency decree, in force since April 1975, forbiding political dissent.
South Korea dissidents who had high hopes for the Carter administration are dissatisfied with its performance to date in influencing President Park.
"There's a general feeling of disappointment in Carter," said Faye Moon, American wife of pailed theology professor Stephen Moon. "To pull out troops and replace them with economic aid is like saying 'do what you want to do.' It's atrocious if they don't say something on human rights," she added.
U.S. Ambassador Richard I. Sneider has been criticized as lacking interest in the human-rights issues.
The dissidents claim that Sneider's policy of trying to achieve progress in human rights through discreet approaches to the South Korean government is ineffective and unenthusiastically executed. The ambassador has privately railed at American newspaper reporting on the human-rights situation unfavorable to the Seoul government.
Former President Yum Po Sun commented today: "Generally people here think he is pro-Park Chung Hee.Even Americans think the same - that he is rather pro-government."
Opposition leaders express the fear that the troop withdrawal plan will reduce the U.S. ability to influence Park and will afford the former General the excuse for stronger measures against internal dissent in facing the Communist North.