Military action against N.Korea an 'option on the table': Tillerson

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) speaks with acting South Korean President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-Ahn in Seoul on March 17, 2017
JEON HEON-KYUN (POOL/AFP)
US 'strategic patience' with nuclear-armed North Korea is over, Tillerson said

US military action against nuclear-armed Pyongyang was an "option on the table", Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday after visiting the Demilitarised Zone that divides the two Koreas.

"Certainly we do not want to, for things to get to military conflict," he told reporters, but added: "If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action, then, that option's on the table."

The United States' "strategic patience" with nuclear-armed North Korea is over, Tillerson said.

The announcement signals a clean break from the stance of the previous administration under Barack Obama, when the United States ruled out engaging the North until it made a tangible commitment to de-nuclearization, hoping that internal stresses in the isolated country would bring about change.

"The policy of strategic patience has ended," Tillerson said at a joint press conference with his South Korean counterpart Yun Byung-Se.

"We are exploring a new range of diplomatic, security, economic measures. All options are on the table."

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) speaks with acting South Korean President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-Ahn in Seoul on March 17, 2017 ( JEON HEON-KYUN (POOL/AFP) )

Tillerson is in Asia for his first foray into crisis management, and his remarks came a day after he said in Tokyo that 20 years of efforts to denuclearize the North had "failed" and promising a new approach, without giving specifics.

North Korea has a long-standing ambition to become a nuclear power and conducted its first underground atomic test in 2006, in the teeth of global opposition.

Four more test blasts have followed, two of them last year.

Leaving the North with its present level of weapons technology was not an appropriate goal, Tillerson said in Seoul. "That would leave North Korea with significant capabilities that would represent a true threat."

The United Nations has imposed multiple sets of sanctions on the North over its nuclear and missile programs, but its main diplomatic protector and trade partner China is accused of not fully enforcing them.

Tillerson will be going on to Beijing on Saturday to press it to do more.

"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.

"We know that other nations can take actions."

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