SEOUL, South Korea — President Chun Doo Hwan told Secretary of State George P. Shultz on Friday that he is prepared to compromise with opposition groups on the explosive issue of how to select the next South Korean leader.
A senior State Department official said Chun readily agreed when Shultz told him it is time for his military-backed government to negotiate with opposition leaders over the dispute, which has sparked violent confrontations between security police and anti-Chun demonstrators.
The official said Chun assured Shultz that there is "no possibility" that he will back away from his announced plans to relinquish the presidency when his term ends in February, 1988. Shultz made it clear that Washington intends to hold the South Korean president to that promise, the official said.
At a press conference, Shultz sought to chart a middle course between the Chun government and opposition groups.
Backs Free, Fair Election
"The United States, as a friend and ally, supports the aspirations of all Koreans for continuing political development, for respect for basic human rights and free and fair elections," Shultz said. "We will continue to support all those urging moderation and nonviolent political change as you seek to fulfill these aspirations."
Shultz expressly endorsed a speech last month by Assistant Secretary of State Gaston Sigur that warned South Korean leaders that they should solve their disputes quickly if they want to continue to enjoy U.S. support.
The Sigur speech was welcomed by opposition leaders who applauded his call for "civilianization" of the government, an indication that Chun's successor should not be a military man. Chun is a former general.
Since the Korean War of the 1950s, the United States has backed a succession of authoritarian governments here, primarily out of concern that the likely alternative to the regime in power was a Communist takeover. Shultz reiterated U.S. support for South Korea's security, but he emphasized that Washington is eagerly awaiting Chun's departure from office, which "will set a historic precedent for the peaceful transfer of power."
Chun, Foes Differ on Method
Chun wants to switch to a system in which a prime minister would be selected by Parliament and the presidency would become a largely ceremonial office. Opposition leaders such as Kim Dae Jung and Kim Young Sam insist on a presidential system, with the electorate voting directly for the new president instead of the present indirect selection by an electoral college.
The method of selection is crucial because each side is convinced that it can win the sort of election that it favors but probably could not win in the other.
Shultz spent five hours in South Korea on his way home from a five-day visit to China. He met Chun and other government officials and he visited the site of the 1988 Olympic Games. But he did not confer with any of the opposition leaders.
However, William Clark, a deputy assistant secretary of state, met Thursday with Kim Dae Jung and Kim Young Sam.
Charges Regime Inflexible
After his meeting with Clark, Kim Dae Jung said the opposition is prepared to compromise on the issue of the succession, but he charged that the government is not.
Shultz said the method of choosing the next leader is a matter the Koreans must decide among themselves. He said the United States supports any means that is democratic.
The dispute was intensified by the police torture death of a student dissident Jan. 14 and by mass arrests this week of demonstrators protesting the killing.
At a press conference Thursday in Shanghai, Shultz praised the government's reaction to the killing and expressed sympathy for the government's problems in maintaining law and order.
"I was quite impressed with the fact that they (government leaders) apologized, that the minister of interior was fired, the police chief was fired, the two policemen involved are being investigated and are being held," Shultz said. "So they have moved into this to take corrective action--which I think is what they should do, and which we encouraged them to do.
"Insofar as demonstrations are concerned . . . you have to be careful about violence, but deal with violence as a matter of law and order and with restraint," he said. "That's the kind of advice that I've given before . . . and it seems to be advice they are taking."
Yoon Ki Byung, Chun's press secretary, described Shultz's comments in Shanghai as "very moderate." He said the South Korean government agrees with the thrust of his remarks.
Shultz did not repeat any of those comments when he reached Seoul. Nor did he say anything at which the government could take offense. However, the senior official said Shultz raised the human rights issue in his private meeting with Chun.
When Shultz passed through Seoul last May, he drew bitter criticism from opposition groups that accused him of glossing over human rights abuses by the government and of siding with Chun in the succession contest.
From Seoul, Shultz flew to Tokyo where he conferred Friday night with Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone.