SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea's president-elect did not intend to suggest this weekend that U.S. officials had debated attacking North Korea, a spokesman said Sunday.
The spokesman, Lee Nak-yeon, said foreign media misinterpreted the remarks, which prompted the White House to stress that President Bush wants a peaceful solution to the dispute over North Korea's nuclear activities.
Speaking Saturday night on South Korean television, President-elect Roh Moo-hyun said some U.S. officials last month talked about an attack on North Korea, but later decided to seek a peaceful solution.
"In fact, the time I was campaigning and getting elected, U.S. hard-liners, people in very responsible positions in the U.S. administration, were talking about the possibility of attacking North Korea and the possibility of war," Roh, who takes office next month, told a panel of university professors on KBS-TV. The South Korean government faxed a transcript of the comment to media.
In a statement Sunday, Lee said Roh was referring generally to many media reports at that time about a possible attack on North Korea, and was not saying that U.S. officials were seriously discussing the military option.
"The misunderstanding was created because some foreign media and U.S. press, using this material, reported as if Roh said the possibility of attacking North Korea had been discussed, considered or planned within the U.S. administration," Lee said. "This is an imprecise quotation and can distort his intentions."
Lee said Roh was "well aware" that Bush had no intention of invading North Korea and was willing to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue peacefully.
In a 1994 crisis over North Korea's nuclear activities, the Clinton administration drew up plans to bomb the nuclear site at Yongbyon. Washington and Pyongyang eventually defused the crisis by signing an energy deal, though the agreement collapsed late last year amid the new dispute.
The dispute began in October when the United States said North Korea had admitted to developing nuclear weapons in violation of a 1994 agreement. In response, Washington suspended fuel shipments guaranteed under the 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 missile tests and reopen a lab that could be used to reprocess spent fuel rods, a step toward making nuclear arms.