A senior State Department official said yesterday that while there is deep concern here about "the danger of destabilization" in Korea as a result of the Friday killing of South Korean President Park Chung Hee, so far "no threat of any kind appears to be developing from the north."
Nor is there any evidence, he said, that North Korea was involved in any way in the slaying of Park.
Park, according to reports from South Korea, was shot to death Friday in a dining room by the chief of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, Kim Jae Kyu, who also shot several others on the scene and is now in custody. The country, meanwhile, is under martial law.
The State Department official said there is still a good deal of uncertainty and that much remains to be known about the killing, but "we don't have evidence to support" the theory that the killing was the first step in a coup planned by the army.
The killing, he said, appears to be "an accident or an assassination, not a coup." A coup, which he ruled out, implied that the killing would be the first step in a planned takeover by the army, but that did not seem to have been the case. Rather, it may have been the work of one or a small number of people who just wanted to get rid of Park, who had been the South Korean strongman for 18 years, and then let things develop.
The spokesman also said that so far it does not appear that opposition groups in Korea were involved in the killing, and, "in fact, the opposition is cooperating with martial law" and the government does not appear to be using the shooting as a reason for "moving against the opposition."
The spokesman said that the "danger would be from possible exploitation by North Korea, and that's why we made a very strong statement" Friday night warning North Korea to avoid any attempts at such exploitation.
At the time that statement was made by U.S. officials, South Korean officials had been in touch with the United States, "hoping that we could, as we did, reiterate our security commitment."
He added that the United States had been in touch with a number of countries, including the Soviet Union, Japan, and China, urging them to make sure that the situation in South Korea not be "exacerbated."
As far as the State Department knows, there are no civil disturbances and life is going on in a reasonably normal way, it was reported.
The spokesman stressed that the details of the shooting are still clouded in mystery and the United States isn't certain of why the president was shot and in what manner. It isn't accepting the official story that Park was shot accidentally when the KCIA chief, Kim, fired at presidential chief bodyguard Cha Ji Chul during an argument.
He added that there absolutely was no "cause and effect" between U.S. unhappiness with the Park regime's repressive actions and the killing.
It is known, the spokesman said, that there were policy differences between KCIA chief Kim and Cha Ji Chul, "related to handling of dissent in Korea."
Cha, sometimes called the president's bodyguard, was actually much more than that -- a close confidant and adviser. He was a hard-liner on suppression of dissent. Kim, it is said, believed that "you had to do more than just control and suppress dissent -- find out the causes."
Choi Kyu Huh, the prime minister, was named acting president.
The State Department spokesman said U.S. troops in South Korea, while put on alert, were not participating in keeping order in the country.
Under the Korean constitution, he said, the council on unification, an elected body, will meet in three months to choose a new president.
While a possible North Korean move clearly was the matter of most concern to U.S. officials, another danger of great concern to policymakers, though it was not mentioned by the official yesterday, is the possibility of a prolonged period of uncertainty and instability while some individual or group emerges as the new leadership of South Korea.
Many Koreans, and virtually the entire opposition, do not accept the constitution devised by Park and put into effect using his powers of martial law.