SEOUL, South Korea – U.S. officials last month discussed the possibility of attacking North Korea for its nuclear weapons activities but later decided to seek a peaceful solution, South Korea's president-elect said Saturday.
The remarks by Roh Moo-hyun, who was elected Dec. 19, shed light on an alleged debate within the Bush administration about how to deal with the communist North after it declared it would reactivate old nuclear facilities capable of making bombs.
"At the time of the elections, some U.S. officials, who held considerable responsibility in the administration, talked about the possibility of attacking North Korea," Roh told a panel of university professors on Korean television.
Responding to these comments, a White House official said: "The President has made it clear that the United States has no intention of invading North Korea and he has indicated that he wants to find a peaceful resolution to the current situation that North Korea has brought upon itself."
Roh's statement came a day after Washington said it was willing to state in writing that it will not invade North Korea — a step forward but still short of the formal nonaggression treaty Pyongyang wants.
Speaking to Japanese reporters, a senior U.S. official said Friday there was "no possibility" at present for a nonaggression pact: Congress would never agree to one, given that North Korea reneged on a 1994 agreement to give up its nuclear weapons program.
But Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage stressed that Washington did not want to attack North Korea and had no desire to meddle in its domestic politics.
"The president has no hostile intentions and no plans to invade. That's an indication that North Korea can have the regime that they want to have," he said in Washington.
To make that official, Armitage said the United States would be willing to exchange letters, documents or some form of written guarantees with the North.
The current dispute over Pyongyang's nuclear program began in October, when the United States said North Korea had admitted to developing nuclear weapons in violation of a previous agreement. In response, Washington suspended fuel shipments guaranteed under the 1994 pact.
North Korea in turn expelled U.N. inspectors, reactivated nuclear facilities and last week withdrew from a global anti-nuclear pact. It has threatened to resume its missile tests and reopen a lab that could be used to reprocess spent nuclear fuel rods, a step toward making nuclear arms.
While demanding a formal nonaggression treaty, the North also has refused to discuss the issue with third parties, including South Korea and Japan, saying it was a matter between it and the United States.
Intensifying the international push for diplomacy, a Russian envoy in Pyongyang met with North Korean officials Saturday, the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov has been pushing a so-called "package plan" calling for security guarantees and resumption of economic aid to North Korea in return for a commitment to keep the Korean Peninsula nuclear-free.
Roh, who takes office next month, told the televised panel Saturday about the pressure he was under during his election campaign over the possiblity of a U.S. attack on the isolationist North.
"I then felt so desperate. I couldn't even say in public what would happen if the United States attacked North Korea because that would make the people afraid," he said on KBS-TV.
"I then felt that no matter what differences I might face with the United States, I would oppose an attack on North Korea," Roh said. "Fortunately, opinion in the United States started to change to resolving the matter peacefully."
South Korea has tried to capitalize on its ties with Pyongyang to help mediate a diplomatic end to the nuclear dispute, but its efforts have been muddied by a scandal that Seoul gave alleged payoffs to the North.
Seoul's government opposition has leveled accusations the outgoing president, Kim Dae-jung, secretly funneled $341 million to North Korea before his historic 2000 summit with that nation's leader, Kim Jong Il.
If true, the payment could be seen as helping seal the meeting, which earned the South Korean president a Nobel Peace Prize that year for his overtures to the North.
Allegations first raised last fall flared again Friday when Roh said prosecutors should investigate the matter. Roh, from Kim's ruling Millennium Democratic Party, takes office next month.
The opposition Grand National Party issued a statement Saturday saying it will "closely watch" whether Roh follows through with his pledge to investigate the allegation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.