Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday the United States would not attack North Korea, rejecting a suggestion that Pyongyang may feel it needs nuclear weapons to stave off an Iraq-style US invasion. President George W. Bush, Rice said, has told the "the North Koreans that there is no intention to invade or attack them. So they have that guarantee. ... I don't know what more they want."
Rice told CNN television that Bush "never takes any of his options off the table. But is the United States, somehow, in a provocative way, trying to invade North Korea? It's just not the case."
Asked whether North Korean leader Kim Jong Il may have felt that he needed to stage an apparent nuclear test this week to prevent an invasion similar to the US-led attack on Saddam Hussein, Rice said Iraq "was a very special situation."
"Iraq was a desire to finally deal with a threat that had been there for too long," she said.
Rice also rejected direct talks with North Korea, saying that if Kim "wants a bilateral deal, it's because he doesn't want to face the pressure of other states that have leverage," referring to China, South Korea and the other members of stalled six-nation nuclear negotiations. "What Kim Jong Il should understand is that if he verifiably gives up his nuclear weapons program, there is a better path," Rice said. "There's a better path for his people, who are oppressed and downtrodden, and hungry for that matter."
Her comments came as US Ambassador John Bolton said the United States would not be intimidated by a reported threat from Pyongyang that it could fire a nuclear-tipped missile unless the US acts to resolve the standoff. "This is the way North Korea typically negotiates by threat and intimidation," Bolton said. "It's worked for them before. It won't work for them now."
The White House said, meanwhile, there is a "remote possibility" that the world never will be able to fully determine whether North Korea succeeded in conducting a nuclear test Monday. While acknowledging that the action was provocative, White House press secretary Tony Snow suggested that it's possible that the test was something less than it appeared.
"You could have something that is very old and off-the-shelf here, as well, in which case they've dusted off something that is old and dormant," he said. The comment appeared to indicate that the White House was attempting to play down the significance of the test, but Snow said later that he was merely posing a hypothetical question.
"The Chinese, the South Koreans, the Japanese - they all have more direct leverage over the North Koreans than we do," Snow said. "The people who have the greatest ability to influence behavior are now fully invested in equal partners in a process to deal with the government of North Korea."