United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday issued the Trump administration’s starkest warning yet to North Korea, saying that a military response would be “on the table” if Pyongyang took action to threaten South Korean and US forces.
“We are exploring a new range of security and diplomatic measures. All options are on the table,” Tillerson told a news conference.
He said any North Korean actions that threatened US or South Korean forces would be met with “an appropriate response,” turning up the volume of the tough language that has marked President Donald Trump’s approach to North Korea.
“Certainly, we do not want for things to get to a military conflict,” he said when asked about possible military action, but added: “If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action that option is on the table.”
In spite of Tillerson’s warning, US officials have stressed that while an ongoing review on North Korea policy includes military options, such contingency planning has been conducted for decades and that the preferred course is to press Pyongyang to abandon its weapons programs through increased sanctions and other diplomatic pressure, particularly on China.
Tillerson, a former oil executive with no prior diplomatic experience, travels to China on Saturday, where he will press Beijing, North Korea’s only ally, to do more to rein in its neighbor.
The main focus of Tillerson’s trip, his first visit to Asia as secretary of state, has been on developing a “new approach” to North Korea after what he described as two decades of failed efforts to persuade it to denuclearize. Tillerson also visited Japan on his trip.
Trump said on Friday that North Korea was “behaving very badly” and accused China of doing little to resolve the crisis over the North’s weapons programs.