Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the U.S. decision to move a force of heavy bombers to within striking of North Korea should not be considered hostile.

Mr. Rumsfeld says the decision to send 24 B-1 and B-52 bombers to the Pacific island of Guam reflects a prudent defensive move - just in case North Korea decides to take advantage of the Bush administration's current focus on Iraq.

Mr. Rumsfeld spoke to reporters at the Pentagon, after a meeting with President Bush at the White House. "It's appropriate for the United States to look around the globe and say where might someone think of taking advantage of that situation with respect to Iraq and see that we're properly arranged so that the appropriate deterrence and defense capabilities are there," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Mr. Rumsfeld said the president remains interested in a diplomatic settlement of the current nuclear crisis with North Korea.

He insists the bomber deployment is not intended as a threatening signal to Pyongyang. "There's certainly nothing in any way that's aggressive or threatening or hostile to anything the United States has done," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

The decision to move bombers to the Pacific follows an incident Sunday in which North Korean fighters intercepted an unarmed U.S. reconnaissance plane in international airspace off the North Korean coast. U.S. officials described the North Korean action as provocative.

But Mr. Rumsfeld says the bomber force was placed on standby for deployment to Guam well before the incident.