Military action by the United States against nuclear-armed North Korea is an “option on the table” if the threat from the rogue regime escalates, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Seoul on Friday.
Tillerson’s statement comes a week after a missile launch conducted by Pyongyang described it as a drill for an attack on US bases in Japan.
The United States’ “strategic patience” had ended, Tillerson said signalling a sea change in American policy towards the North as against the stance taken by the previous Obama administration.
“We are exploring a new range of diplomatic, security, economic measures. All options are on the table,” Tillerson told reporters at a joint press conference with his South Korean counterpart Yun Byung-Se.
“Certainly we do not want to, for things to get to military conflict,” he said. “If they elevate the threat of their weapons programme to a level that we believe require action, then, that option’s on the table.”
Before Trump came to power, the US ruled out engaging the North until it made a tangible commitment to denuclearisation, hoping that internal stresses in the isolated country would bring about change.
The US has 28,000 troops stationed in South Korea to defend it from the North, but the capital Seoul is within range of Pyongyang’s artillery and analysts believe any conflict could risk rapid escalation and heavy casualties.
Tillerson’s remarks came a day after he said in Tokyo that 20 years of efforts to denuclearise the North had “failed” and promised a new approach, without giving specifics.
The United Nations has imposed multiple sets of sanctions on the North over its nuclear and missile programmes, but its main diplomatic protector and trade partner China is accused of not fully enforcing them.
“I don’t believe we have ever fully achieved the maximum level of action that can be taken under the UN security council resolution with full participation of all countries,” he said.
“We know that other nations can take actions,” he added
(With inputs from agencies)