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US ready to act if North Korea threats rise

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Tillerson wants to find 'new approach' for curbing the insular nation

SEOUL: Military action would be "on the table" if North Korea elevated the threat level, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said yesterday.

He said: "Let me be very clear: the policy of strategic patience has ended. We are exploring a new range of security and diplomatic measures. All options are on the table.".

He said any North Korean actions that threatened the South would be met with "an appropriate response".

"If they elevate the threat of their weapons programme to a level that we believe requires action, that option is on the table," Mr Tillerson said when asked about military action.

Mr Tillerson began his first Asian visit as secretary of state in Japan on Wednesday and will travel to China today with a focus on finding a "new approach" on North Korea after what he described as two decades of failed efforts to denuclearise the insular nation.

North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests and a series of missile launches since the beginning of last year.

Last week, it launched four more ballistic missiles and is working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the United States.

He called on China to implement sanctions against North Korea and said there was no need for China to punish South Korea for deploying an advanced US anti-missile system aimed at defending against North Korea.

"We believe these actions are unnecessary and troubling," Mr Tillerson said, referring to what South Korea sees as Chinese retaliation in the form of business restrictions in response to the deployment of the missile system.

"We also believe it is not the way for a regional power to help resolve what is a serious threat for everyone.

"So we hope China will alter its position on punishing South Korea. We hope they will work with us to eliminate the reason Thaad (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence missiles) is required."

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying reiterated that talks were the best way to resolve the problems of the Korean peninsula.

She added that the Thaad would "upset the regional strategic balance". Its radar, with a range of more than 2,000km, meant it could cover a large part of China, far outside the scope of the threat South Korea faces.

Russia, too, reacted strongly to Mr Tillerson's comments.

Its deputy foreign minister Igor Morgulov, in an interview with Japan's JiJi Press, urged an end to a "vicious circle" on North Korea, claiming tough US reactions to nuclear tests by Pyongyang escalate tensions on the peninsula.

"We suggest looking at the situation in a multi-dimensional way in order to break the vicious circle of tensions," he said. - WIRE SERVICES

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