The United States’ “strategic patience” with nuclear-armed North Korea is over, secretary of state Rex Tillerson said in Seoul on Friday after visiting the Demilitarised Zone.
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-nuclearisation, 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.”
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 denuclearise 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 programmes, 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.”