The House yesterday narrowly rejected an amendment aimed at cutting U.S. aid to South Korea, in a vote that clearly reflected congressional uneasiness over charges of Korean influence-buying.
The vote came only hours after the South Korean government refused to return accused secret agent Tongsun Park to this country; he is under indictment for having tried to bride members of Congress to vote in favor of South Korean aid.
By an unexpectedly close vote of 205 to 181, the House defeated an amendment by Rep. Bruce F. Caputo (R-N.Y.) that would have lowered the ceiling on the fiscal 1978 budget resolution by about $110 million, an amount equal to the funds the United States spends on rice and other commodities for South Korea.
The House then overwhelmingly defeated, 268 to 120, an amendment by Rep. Andrew Jacobs (D-Ind.) that would have cut all South Korean aid from the budget resolution.
The vote on the Caputo amendment was considered an especially uncomfortable one for both the Carter administration, which quietly opposed its passage, and for many House members who have been touched by allegations about the Korean lobbying efforts..S. pressure on the South Korean government has increased in recent days since a federal grand jury returned a 36-count felcony indictment accusing Park of bribery and conspiracy and of being a South Korean agent who paid tens of thousands of dollars to members of Congress.
On the Caputo amendment, 99 Democrats joined 82 Republicans in voting "yes." Fity-three Republicans and 152 Democrats voted against the measure.
Some members said privately after the Caputo vote that they felt compelled to vote yes because some future political foe might challenge them if they passed up the first chance to vote against the South Korean government.
Others said, however, that they thought the Caputo effort was a meaningless gesture and that Congress should give tht Executive Branch more of a chance to persuade South Korea to return Tongsun park for prosecution.
In introducing the amendment, Caputo noted that the South Korean foreign minister has said earlier in the day that his government could do nothing to force Park to return to the United States. That rejection, Caputo said, "leaves us with few cards left to play.
He argued that the $110 million of U.S. Food for Peace aid should be cut because "through this program against this Congress."
He then quoted from the grand jury indictment which said that the South Korean government had made Park its exclusive agent for buying rice - much of it federally subsidized - and that Park had used commissions from the rice sales to make his campaign contributions and cash gifts to members of Congress.
Caputo, a freshman member of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, which is investigating the Korean lobbying effort, told colleagues that the vote was their chance to voice an opinion about U.S. aid for a program "that was abused by that country." No House member chose to speak in opposition to Caputo's amendment.
Caputo said after the vote that he had received more support than he expected. "I feel that the vote definitely was a signal to the South Korean government." He said if Park is not returned he might well try such a maneuver again.
House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), who had issued a stern warning to the Korean government the day before, joined those standing in opposition to the Caputo amendment on a "division vote" before the recorded vote was taken. He did not vote on the Caputo amendment. An aide said later the Speaker has not voted on any issue this year.
Reps. John Brademas (D-Ind.) and John McFall (D-Calif.), who have acknowledged receiving cash donations from Tongsun Park, both voted in favor of the Caputo amendment. Brademas said later that the vote was consistent with his past votes on aid to Korea, which he has opposed because of alleged human rights violations in that country.
Most members of the House committee investigating the Korean influence-buying voted against Caputo. Rep. Richardson Preyer (D-N.C.) said, "One reason for members to vote yes was to make it appear they were innocent of any connection with the Koreans. That's not the way to prove innocence or guilt."
Rep. Millicent Fenwick (R-N.J.) said she voted against the Caputo amendment because, "If you really want to get that man [Tongsun park] back, the only way to do it is to talk smoothly in public and harshly in private. If you bludgeon them, especially in a country in the East, you will make them appear to lose face and they'll never cooperate."
Rep. Donald M. Fraser (D-Minn.), chairman of the House International Relations subcommittee investigating the foreign policy aspects of the Korean lobbying campaign, also voted against the Caputo amendment. "I voted that way because I think this is something for the Executive Branch to work out . . . I understand the President's communications with the South Koreans have been pretty direct."
In Seoul, South Korean Foreign Minister Park Tong-Sin said at a press conference that his government will refuse to force Tongsun Park to return to the United States: "As a fully sovereign and law-governed nation, Korea finds no ground or reason to turn over its national merely on the ground that he is suspected of having violated foreign law."