President Carter has informed South Korean President Park Chung Hee that he hopes to meet with the Korean leader next year and has indicated he expects an improvement in the meantime in the South Korean record on human rights, according to U.S. officials.
The message was delivered to Park in a letter from Carter yesterday, the officials said. It was brought by Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, who is here for a three-day official visit with Park and South Korean defense officials.
Brown, it was learned, also told Park yesterday that the Carter administration is counting on an improvement in the human rights situation here.
The text of Carter's letter was not disclosed, but sources familiar with its contents said that it expressed the president's "hope" that he could meet with Park some time in 1979.
South Korea's dissidents have complained for two years that the Carter's administration, despite its put pressure on the Park government human rights proclamations, has not to relax its control over public dissent.
They renewed their criticism recently when police prevented a student demonstration from taking place in downtown Seoul and arrested and beat several persons attending a prayer meeting. The latter incident occurred on Sept. 22 after one man had publicly shouted that Park was a Communist, a punishable offense in South Korea. That incident also led to the first allegation of torture here in many months.
The first overture for a meeting of the two presidents reportedly came from South Korean officials eager to reestablish good relations with the United States after the acrimony of the congressional bribery case known as "Koreagate."
No dates have been fixed, but it appears likely that Carter might plan to visit Seoul after the next world economic summit meeting which is tentatively scheduled to be held in Tokyo early next summer.
The U.S. officials did not characterize Carter's letter as specifically requiring a relaxation of political controls here as the price for a summit meeting.
But the Carter administration expects "some action" to be taken by the Park government on human rights before such a meeting comes about, the officials emphasized.
It also said that the proposal was in line with a discussion that the U.S. ambassador. William Gleysteen, recently had with Park, they said. U.S. officials said at that meeting Gleysteen had asked Park to improve the human rights conditions in his country.
From the description of the letter obtained yesterday, it appeared that Carter might be conditioning his meeting with Park on Park's promise to ease up on the dissidents, who are frequently jailed and sometimes beaten for publicly opposing his rule.
What action the Carter administration expects Park to take on human rights was not disclosed but there have been rumors in Seoul for months that Park might choose the date for his inauguration in December to announce a sweeping amnesty for political prisoners. The dissidents claim that there are about 300 persons currently in jail for committing political crimes, such as demonstating or criticizing the government.
Ironically, Carter's letter was delivered here on a day when Park made an unusual public remark critical of the Carter administration plan to gradually withdraw ground forces from South Korea.