The US government is not seeking a regime change in North Korea, the secretary of state says, amid tensions over Pyongyang’s weapons program.
“We’re not your enemy,” Rex Tillerson said, adding that the US wanted a dialogue at some point.
But a Republican senator said President Donald Trump had told him there would be a war with North Korea if its missile program continued.
Pyongyang claimed its latest missile could hit the US west coast.
The second test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Friday, celebrated by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was the latest to be conducted in defiance of a United Nations ban.
“We do not seek a regime change, we do not seek the collapse of the regime, we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula, we do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th parallel,” said Mr. Tillerson, referring to the border between the Koreas.
“We’re not your enemy, we’re not your threat but you’re presenting an unacceptable threat to us and we have to respond.”
North Korea’s recent long-range missile tests have deepened concern about the threat Pyongyang poses to the US mainland and strengthened determination here to prevent any strike. That’s what the president had in mind in his war talk with Senator Lindsey Graham.
The Pentagon has updated military options, but at the same time says a confrontation would be catastrophic. In light of that, Mr. Tillerson repeated at length that the US wasn’t seeking regime change and said the goal was dialogue, but one not based on the assumption that North Korea could keep its nuclear weapons.
Pyongyang has categorically refused such terms.
The strategy, said Mr. Tillerson, is a sustained campaign of peaceful but intensifying economic pressure to change its mind. But given the advances in ballistic technology demonstrated by the recent ICBM tests, there’s growing doubt that denuclearization is a realistic possibility.
As always, there are no good options when it comes to North Korea, but less time to pursue them.
President Trump has repeatedly criticized China, which shares a land border with North Korea and is its closest economic ally, for not doing enough to stop Pyongyang’s weapons program.
However, Mr. Tillerson took a more diplomatic approach, saying that “only the North Koreans are to blame for this situation”.
“But,” he added, “we do believe China has a special and unique relationship, because of this significant economic activity, to influence the North Korean regime in ways that no one else can.”