Rex Tillerson: Military action against North Korea is 'on the table'

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned Friday that military action against North Korea was "on the table" if the country continued to develop its weapons program.

"If they elevate the threat of their threat weapons program to a level that we believe requires action then that option is on the table," he told a press conference in South Korea.

"Certainly we do not want for things to get to a military conflict," he added. "But obviously if North Korea takes actions that threaten the South Korean forces or our own forces then that would be met with an appropriate response."

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Inside North Korea's secretive missile program
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Inside North Korea's secretive missile program
A missile is carried by a military vehicle during a parade to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the signing of a truce in the 1950-1953 Korean War, at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang July 27, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Lee (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY ANNIVERSARY)
Engineers check the base of Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket sitting on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang April 8, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY)
A North Korean scientist looks at a monitor showing the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, at the satellite control centre of the Korean Committee of Space Technology on the outskirts of Pyongyang April 11, 2012. North Korea said on Wednesday it was injecting fuel into a long-range rocket ahead of a launch condemned by its neighbours and the West. The launch is set to take place between Thursday and next Monday and has prompted neighbours such as the Philippines to re-route their air traffic. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
A soldier stands guard in front of the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket sitting on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang April 8, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
North Korean soldiers salute in a military vehicle carrying a missile during a parade to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the signing of a truce in the 1950-1953 Korean War, at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang July 27, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Lee (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY ANNIVERSARY)
Ko Yun-hwa (L), Administrator of Korea Meteorological Administration, points at where seismic waves observed in South Korea came from, during a media briefing at Korea Meteorological Administration in Seoul, South Korea, January 6, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A sales assistant watches TV sets broadcasting a news report on North Korea's nuclear test, in Seoul, January 6, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Workers construct a new nuclear reactor in the North Korean village of Kumho in this file photo taken August 7, 2002. The United States urged North Korea December 21, 2002 not to restart a nuclear reactor suspected of being used to make weapons-grade plutonium. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that North Korea had disabled surveillance devices the agency had placed at the five-megawatt Nyongbyong reactor. REUTERS/Lee Jae-won/File Photo LJW/RCS/AA
A passenger walks past a television report on North Korea's nuclear test at a railway station in Seoul February 12, 2013. North Korea conducted a nuclear test on Tuesday, South Korea's defence ministry said, after seismic activity measuring 4.9 magnitude was registered by the U.S. Geological Survey. The epicentre of the seismic activity, which was only one km below the Earth's surface, was close to the North's known nuclear test site. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji (SOUTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
A scientist stands beside the Kwangmyongsong-3 application satellite, to be put onto the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang April 8, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY)
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North Korea carried out two nuclear tests last year, and in January a senior North Korean official told NBC News that the country was ready to test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile "at any time, at any place."

Tillerson's comments came during his first official visit to Asia as President Donald Trump's secretary of state.

A day earlier in Tokyo, he said that two decades of bipartisan diplomatic efforts toward Kim Jong Un's regime had failed.

"Let me be very clear — the policy of strategic patience has ended," he added on Friday. "We are exploring a new range of security and diplomatic measures. All options are on the table."

Tillerson said that the U.S. has provided $1.3 billion in resistance to the authoritarian regime since 1995, but "in return North Korea has detonated nuclear weapons and dramatically increased its launches of ballistic missiles to threaten Americana and our allies."

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However, he added that "we have many, many steps we can take before we get to" military action and "we hope that that will persuade North Korea to take a different course of action. That's our desire."

In addition to its two nuclear tests last year, the Korea has carried out numerous missile launches and says it's working on a nuclear-tipped missile that can reach America.

"Today, North Korea not only threatens its regional neighbors but the United States and other countries," Tillerson added.

Despite mooting the possibility of conflict, Tillerson said Thursday that "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."

Tillerson also visited the volatile Demilitarized Zone that divides the two rival Koreas on Friday, with his entourage standing on the South side just three feet away from North Korean soldiers on their side of the line.

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