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S. Korea’s Roh says U.S. mulled attacking North

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SEOUL, South Korea — High-level U.S. officials last month discussed the possibility of attacking North Korea because of its nuclear 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 U.S. government over 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.

A U.S. State Department spokesman, who requested anonymity, said he was not aware of any such discussion about military action against North Korea. He and the White House reiterated that President Bush wants a peaceful solution to the conflict.

"The president has made it clear the U.S. has no intention of invading North Korea, and he has indicated he wants to find a peaceful resolution to the current situation North Korea has brought upon itself," White House spokeswoman Jeanie Mamo said.

Roh's comments came a day after Washington said it was willing to give North Korea a written guarantee it would not invade — a step forward but short of the formal nonaggression treaty Pyongyang wants.

Speaking to Japanese reporters, a senior U.S. official said Friday there was "no possibility" 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 had no desire to meddle in North Korea's 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 .

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 missile tests and reopen a lab that could be used to reprocess spent fuel rods.