The Carter administration, though seriously concerned about the swift progression of political events in South Korea, has decidced not to object to Gen. Chon Doo Hwan's decision to assume command of the government there in name as well as fact, officials said yesterday.
The latest twist in the Korean tangle was the subject of high-level U.S. meetings for several days after unofficial notification early this week from Seoul that President Choi Kyu Hah is resigning to make way for Chon.
According to reports reaching Washington yesterday, the process of formally anointing Chon to be South Korea's president may begin as early as Monday and be completed before the end of next week.
Although the United States is anything but happy with the repressive measures taken by Chon and the Korean military in the process of establishing and safeguarding their political power, Washington has not so far demonstrated an ability to make its influence for moderation felt.
It is considered highly doubtful, therefore, that any U.S. objection to the current step in the military takeover in seoul would be heeded.
Another factor in Washington's decision to say little about the power shift is the expectation that it will be accomplished in keeping with the existing consitution.
The figurehead president, Choi, is resigning voluntarily, at least to all outward appearances. Chon will be electd as his successor by the National Conference for Unification, an easily controlled assemblage of elders set up under the martial law constitution of the late President Park Chung Hee.
Even if they wished to make a fuss, several U.S. officials said, it would be difficult to find the formal jusitification for protesting a legal change in another government.
It has been likely since last Dec. 12, when Chon and a group of fellow junion generals ousted their military superiors in a nighttime showdown, that Chon sooner or later would take full control. This became increasingly certain throughout the spring as the 47-year-old general gathered increasing power, and eliminated one after another of his possible civilian rivals.
One line of argument in Washington is that the latest change in the accelelration of an inevitable process and may make it neater if not easier to deal with Chon. This is because the military strongman will have the Formal authority as well as the real control in Seoul, and therefore will have to take greater responsibility for his actions.
On the other hand, Chon's assumption of formal power is not likely to assuage either the anger or apprehensionthat exists at high levels of the U.S. government. In order to modifythese attitudes, Chon will have to modify his actions.
Some top officials are furious that Chon appears to be paying no attention to pleas for moderation, and even to be thumbing his nose at Washington, despite South Korea's dependence on the United States for military, economic and international political support. About 40,000 U.S. troops remain in South Korea 27 years after the Korean War armistice to defend that country against the communist north.
The apprehension flows from continuing uncertainty that Koreans will accept Chon as the national leader. The strong-arm methods recently applied in Seoul may suppress the opposition in the short run, but in the long run these tactics may generate powerful and dangerous reactions, in this view.
Because of administration displeasure with his recent "background" interview, which seemed to be a U.S. embrace of Chon, Gen. John A. Wickman, U.S. forces commander in Korea, is being kept in Hawaii for the time being rather than being permitted to return to Seoul from a commander's conference in Norfolk.
However, U.S. Ammbassador to Korea William Gleysteen, currently on home leave, will return to Seoul in the next few days. His tasks will be to renew Washington's pleas for political liberalization and for the life of opposition leader Kim Dae Jung, now on trial for sedition.