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World - Asia/Pacific

No U.S. biological warfare in Korean War, Soviet documents show


March 11, 1999
Web posted at: 10:11 p.m. EDT (2211 GMT)

From CNN World Affairs Correspondent Ralph Begleiter

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Newly released documents from the Soviet Union's secret archives reveal that North Korea this week repeated charges it knew to be false -- alleging U.S. use of biological warfare during the Korean War.

On Wednesday, North Korea charged in a letter to the United Nations Security Council that the United States used "chemical and biological weapons" and conducted "massacres of innocent populations" during the Korean War. The North Korean government gave CNN a copy of the letter.

The United States and North Korea are negotiating over inspections of an underground North Korean facility that America suspects houses a nuclear weapons program.

The documents show Soviet, Chinese and North Korean officials knew the Korean War germ warfare charges against the United States were false, almost immediately after the communist nations issued them during the war in 1952.

The documents include memos in which Soviet leaders promptly informed Chinese leaders of the falsity of the accusations and even tried to shut down a propaganda campaign based on the charges, which had begun during the last year of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's life.

The newly available Soviet documents show that today's North Korean government continues to raise the allegations more than 45 years after their Soviet allies dismissed them.

While North Korea may have been able to discount denials by the United States, it would be much harder for the Stalinist-style government of North Korea to dismiss Moscow's own admission of the falsity of the charges.

The documents amount to a behind-the-scenes glimpse at a Cold War propaganda campaign, told in the words of the very Soviet leaders who dealt with it at the time.

The documents are being published by the Cold War International History Project at the Wilson Center in Washington. They were translated by historian Kathryn Weathersby.

Highlights of the documents include:

  • A February 1952 telegram from Chinese Communist leader Mao Tse-tung to Stalin in which Mao asserts for the first time that the United States "used bacteriological weapons eight times, from planes and through artillery shells."
  • An April 1953 note from a top Soviet counterespionage official to Stalin's replacement (after Stalin's death) for the first time informing the Soviet hierarchy that the accusations were "false." The memo reveals that the North Koreans, with on-the-ground help from Soviet "advisers," had "created false areas of exposure" (areas where biological weapons were alleged to have been used).
  • An April 1953 memo from a Soviet medical agent who had been in North Korea flatly stating that, even before Stalin died, and after the propaganda campaign about germ warfare had begun, the Soviets had concluded "there are no examples of bacteriological weapons" in North Korea.
  • An April 1953 memo from the Soviet ambassador in North Korea reporting to Moscow that China had also alleged American use of chemical weapons ("poison gas") in the Korean War but that the Soviet ambassador had disproved those charges.

North Korea Information
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