Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday said the U.S. would not rule out a preemptive military strike against North Korea if the country’s nuclear program reaches a level “that we believe requires action.”
“If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action then that option is on the table,” Tillerson said during a press conference in South Korea on Friday.
Tillerson’s warning comes a day after he said the people of North Korea “need not fear” the U.S.
“North Korea and its people need not fear the United States or their neighbors in the region, who seek only to live in peace in the region,” he said during a press conference on Thursday.
According to the Associated Press, Tillerson would not elaborate on the administration’s plans with regards to North Korea, which he called an “ever-escalating threat.” But the last two decades of diplomacy, he said, have been a failure. The secretary offered the comment while visiting the demilitarized zone along the North Korean border.
In addition to preemptive strike, the White House maintains that arming America’s East Asian allies with nuclear weapons is still a viable option. President Donald Trump discussed nuclearization during the election, asserting the U.S. “may very well be better off” if Japan also had the bomb.
North Korea, which conducted its fifth and largest nuclear test in September, fired four ballistic missiles towards the Sea of Japan last week. Three of the missiles landed 200 nautical miles from Japan’s coast.
It wasn’t the first time. In September, North Korea fired three ballistic missiles into Japan’s air defense zone, two weeks after testing a missile launched from a submarine. Experts on the isolated country say its weapons program is rapidly evolving.
U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley told Fox News in an interview that the Trump administration plans to “go harder” on China, which it contends has not done enough to hinder North Korea’s nuclear advancement. The U.S. has also discussed pressuring Russia to take action.
In a tweet posted Friday morning, Trump reiterated condemnation of North Korea and what he characterized as China’s failure to properly respond.
North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been "playing" the United States for years. China has done little to help!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 17, 2017
China has opposed the deployment of a U.S. missile system—the Terminal High Altitude Area Device, or THAAD—which is designed to protect South Korea in the event of a nuclear strike.