The full House Armed Services Committee rather than its investigations subcommittee will pursue President Carter's Korea policy because of the importance of the issue, Committee Chairman Melvin Price (D-Ill.) said yesterday.
Shortly after coming back from the Memorial Day recess on June 6 the committee is expected to call the Joint Chiefs of Staff to give their personal opinions on Carter's plan to withdraw American ground forces from South Korea between now and 1982.
Chairman Samuel S. Stratton (D-N.Y.) of the Armed Services Investigations Subcommittee yesterday sent formal notice to Defense Secretary Harold Brown that the chiefs' opinions will be sought as the House assesses Carter's withdrawal plan.
At a minimum, the committee wants to hear from Air Force Gen. George S. Brown, chairman of the joint chiefs, and Gen. Bernard W. Rogers, Army chief of staff.
Price, who has been absent from the House for weeks because he is recuperating from a complicated hernia operation, said in a telephone interview yesterday that he will meet with his committee when it determines the course of its Korea inquiry.
"I have no objection" to calling the joint chiefs as witnesses, Price said, but added that "a matter of this importance" should be handled by the full committee rather than Stratton's investigations subcommittee.
Some congressional sources interpreted Price's broadening of the inquiry as an attempt to rein in on Stratton who provided a forum on Wednesday for Maj. Gen. John Singlaub to attack Carter's withdrawal plan.
But this was denied by others, including Stratton. The subcommittee chairman said he talked to Price yesterday and received no intimation from the chairman that he should soft-pedal the Korea troop inquiry.
Stratton said he told Defense Secretary Brown in a separate telephone conversation yesterday that "you've got a serious problem here" because it appears military leaders are opposed to pulling American ground troops out of Korea.
"It's just not me trying to be bitchy," Stratton said, but on a policy move that could mean peace or war the Carter administration should have consulted with Congress. "I think we've had a lot of poor liaison on so many things," Stratton said in a slap at the Carter White House.
Brown called him, Stratton said, to protest a remark Stratton had made on television after Wednesday's subcommittee hearing with Singlaub.
"Secretary Brown's comments that after the decision was made everybody has got to shut up sounds a little bit like Hitler's Germany," Stratton Brown's statement that Singlaub had no right to criticize publicly a preisent's policy decision.
Singlaub, who was chief of staff at the U.S. military command in South Korea, said in a Washington Post interview published on May 19 that "if we withdraw our ground forces on the schedule suggested, it will lead to war."
Stratton said he tried to assure Brown "I was referring to the policy" against letting military leaders speak their minds, not criticizing Brown personally. "He was a little unhappy" about the comparison to Hitler's German, Stratton said of Brown.
Singlaub said in his testimoney before the Stratton subcommittee that he knew of no senior South Korean or American officer in Korea who favored withdrawing the 33,507 American ground troops.
Stratton said the committee's next obligation is "to see if we can find out what role the Joint Chiefs of Staff played" in Carter's withdrawal decision.
Some House Armed Services Committee members objected to Wednesday's hearing on the ground it amounted to "a frontal assault" on Carter's Korea plan and subjected the President to "a kangaroo court."
Once idea under consideration by the committee is to hear from the military chiefs in a closed session so they would not be in the position of attacking the President publicly when asked to give their personal opinion of his withdrawal plan.