SEOUL, South Korea -- U.S. Defense Secretary Harold Brown met with South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan today and expressed Washington's concern over the death sentence weighing against opposition leader Kim Dae-jung.
Chun told Brown Kim's fate was in the hands of the Korean court, a high government source said after the hour and 35 minute meeting at the presidential residence, the Blue House. But before departing for Washington seven hours later the defense secretary said he was returning 'with optimism that the (South) Korean people will use the decade of the 1980's to demonstrate their growth as a strong, stable and democratic society.' Earlier a high government source said, 'We understand that secretary Brown expressed concern about the case of Kim Dae-jung.'
'In response, President Chun pointed out that the Kim case is under trial in accordance with Korean law so the case should be left to a fair judgment of law,' the source said.
Chief presidential spokesman Lee Woong-Hee said Brown did not carry a personal letter from President Carter or President-elect Ronald Reagan concerning the Kim case.
The Chun-Brown meeting also covered security issues affecting the two countries, and special attention was given the military threat posed by North Korea, the spokesman said.
Chun expressed concern that North Korea might run the risk of an all-out war by infiltrating guerilla forces to take advantage of political or social unrest in South Korea, the spokesman said.
Brown assured Chun that the United States would continue to cooperate with Seoul to counter any military threat by South Korea, the spokesman said.
During the meeting, Brown also briefed Chun on his recent meetings with NATO defense leaders and Japanese government officials, the spokesman said.
The Blue House meeting took place immediately after Brown's arrival in Seoul shortly after 11 a.m. (9:00 p.m. EST) from Tokyo where the secretary apparently failed to persuade Japan to increase its defense spending.
Accompanying Brown at the Blue House meeting were U.S. Ambassador William Gleysteen, Gen. John A. Wickham Jr., commander of the U.S. forces in South Korea, and other top Defense Department officials.
Korean officials on hand were Foreign Minister Lho Shin-Yong, Defense Minister Choo Young-Bock and Lew Byung-Hyun, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.
After the Blue House meeting, Brown was scheduled to hold separate talks with Defense Minister Choo on developments in bilateral security relationships during the past year, South Korean officials said.
U.S. Embassy officials kept an exceptionally low profile on Brown's visit, which was to last only five hours. Observers believe it is part of the secretary's quiet diplomacy to spare the life Kim, South Korea's best-known dissident fighting for his life on sedition charges.
Reports from Washington said President Carter has written a personal letter to Chun seeking commutation for the 55-year-old Korean opposition leader.
The Korean opposition leader was arrested last May when authorities expanded martial law to crack down on political dissent. Kim was subsequently convicted and sentenced to death by a military court for seeking the overthrow of the government through popular uprisings.
An appeal of his death sentence is now pending before the Korean Supreme Court. Unconfirmed reports said the high court ruling on Kim's case may come before Christmas.
Kim's death sentence sparked international concern and protests, notably in the United States and Japan, Korea's two closest allies.
Japan, with support from its labor unions and economic circles, openly asked Korean leaders not to execute Kim, triggering diplomatic squabbling between Seoul and Tokyo.
To avoid publicly antagonizing the Seoul government, the United States is moving quietly behind the scenes to settle the issue.