Rex Tillerson: Pre-emptive military action against North Korea is an option

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

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says pre-emptive military action against North Korea is possible "if they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action."

"All of the options are on the table," Tillerson said when asked at a press conference Friday with South Korean foreign minister Yun Byung-se in Seoul whether he would rule out military conflict against North Korea.

His comments came after a visit to the militarized border between South Korea and North Korea and a day before the U.S. secretary of state is to arrive in Beijing for meetings with Chinese officials.

As if to underline Tillerson's remarks, President Trump later on Friday tweeted that "North Korea is behaving very badly" and that "China has done little to help."

Tillerson said in Seoul that the U.S. does not want to engage in a military conflict. "But obviously if North Korea takes actions that threatens South Korean forces or our own forces, that would be met with (an) appropriate response. If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action that option is on the table."

Referring to how the Obama administration hoped sanctions would cripple North Korea to the point where it would renew de-nuclearization negotiations, Tillerson added, "Let me be very clear: the policy of strategic patience has ended."

He also emphasized that the U.S. had no plans to curtail its military activities in the region.

"We don't believe conditions are right for talks and we have no intention of ending military exercises," he said.

Rex Tillerson, center, visits with U.S. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, at the border village of Panmunjom, which has separated the two Koreas, on March 17, 2017. The Associated Press
Rex Tillerson, center, visits with U.S. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, at the border village of Panmunjom, which has separated the two Koreas, on March 17, 2017.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.