An Unusual Role: Soviet Diplomacy between Washington and Pyongyang in 1968
The seizure of the USS Pueblo, an American intelligence ship, on 23 January 1968 triggered one of the most acute and dangerous international crises during the Cold War. The US government comprehensively studied the situation and concluded that a forceful response to the North Korean action was futile, and any action with the use of military force was fraught with the unpredictable escalation and internationalisation of the conflict. In addition, President Lyndon Johnson’s administration had the goal of saving the lives of internees from the ship. The solution to this problem acquired particular importance in connection with the upcoming presidential elections. Negotiations were chosen as a way to overcome the crisis, during which Washington repeatedly appealed to the Soviet government with requests for support in its difficult dialogue with the DPRK leadership. North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, for his part, chose the tactic of delaying negotiations. Both sides were in contact with the USSR, as a result of which Soviet diplomacy had to, on the one hand, facilitate the return of American sailors to their homeland, and, on the other, maintain their image of the leader of the world socialist system, condemning US espionage actions near the shores of a state friendly to the USSR. The purpose of this article is to show Soviet diplomacy in the unusual role of a mediator in the dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang, and to assess the significance of these efforts for resolving a conflict fraught with global consequences. It is concluded that the actions of Soviet diplomacy in the context of this crisis contributed to the relaxation of tensions in US-Soviet relations.
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