President Carter, applying new pressure on the South Korean government for human rights reform, won the strong praise of the country's dissident religious leaders today.
The United States presented a list of 100 political prisoners it would like to see released from South Korean jails, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance said. Carter reportedly told religious leaders he had urged President Park Chung Hee to lift the emergency measures that have limited dissent and civil liberties in recent years.
A senior U.S. official said that Park would agree to some expansion of political rights following his talks with Carter, Reuter reported.
["I would not want to have to say that we extract promises from President Park to do a series of specific things," the source told reporters aboard the president's flight from Seoul. "But we certainly leave with the view that they understand much better the nature of our concerns, and that steps in the desired direction are likely to follow." He added, however, that Carter was "impressed" by South Korean arguments that there was a "genuine security threat."]
"I believe President Carter has established a breakthrough on human rights problems in Korea," said the Rev. Kim Kwam Sulk, secretary general of the National Council of Churches in South Korea.
His comments represented a triumph here on the human rights issue for Carter. Only four days earlier, Kim had deplored what he called an absence of commitment by the U.S. administration to human rights in South Korea.
Kim and three other dissident religious leaders were among a dozen church officials who met with Carter this morning.
Kim later told reporters that the comments Carter made on human rights in President Park's presence Saturday night "were more than we had expected."
Carter, in a toast at a formal state dinner at Park's official residence, challenged the government to make as much progress in human rights as it had in the economic field in recent years.
The emergency measures imposed by Park's government include a controversial "emergency decree" prohibiting any criticism of the government except in the National Assembly.
Dissidents say 340 "political prisoners" charged with violating that emergency decree have been jailed.
According to one of the dissident ministers present at this morning's meeting, Carter told the group that he had requested Park to lift the emergency measures.
Carter's comments in his toast Saturday night came as a surprise. The Park government expected Carter to make only a general comment about the broad field of human rights without any direct reference to South Korea.
Asked to comment on Carter's comments, South Korean officials today responded mildly.
"We fully share the view that, human rights should be protected," they said in a careful statement. "However, it must also be acknowledged that the approaches can differ. Various factors come into play, such as differences in the political climate, national security needs, and sociocultural traditions."
The statement emphasized the government's familiar theme that with the country in danger of Communist attack from North Korea common defense is the first priority. The government insist that dissent in South Korea might encourage the North Koreans to attack.
Carter restated his challenge to South Korea in milder form in the joint communique issued today as the state visit reached a conclusion.
"President Carter expressed the hope that the process of political growth in the Republic of Korea would continue commensurate with the economic and social growth of the Korean nation," it said.
"In this connection, President Park explained his view on this matter together with the curent unique circumstances confronting the Republic of Korea," the communique said.
Later today, Carter also discussed human rights with the major political dissident, Kim Young Sam, the recently elected political opposition leader and a strident critic of the government.
As he left the meeting at the national Assembly, Carter said he and Kim "discussed the human rights question in all of its aspects. It was a very fruitful, very good discussion."
Kim said the talk was a "great success" and significant. He explained they discussed former president Yun Po Sun and former presidential candidate Kim Dae Jung, who have been under house arrest during Carter's visit.
The opposition political leader said he told Carter, "There is no need of continuing the repressive measures in Korea."