United States President Donald Trump said on Thursday he would not discount the chance of a military conflict with North Korea even as his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sought to open a window for talks.
''There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea,'' Trump told Reuters, amid an ongoing standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes.
He said he would prefer, however, to avoid conflict and peaceably achieve a non-nuclear North Korea.
''We'd love to solve things diplomatically, but it's very difficult,'' Trump said.
Meanwhile, in an interview set to air today on NPR, Tillerson said that direct talks with Pyongyang are ''the way we would like to solve this''.
But he warned that North Korea ''has to decide they're ready to talk to us about the right agenda,'' and that would not include pausing their nuclear programme at its current level for a few years ''and then resuming things''.
Tillerson will chair a special meeting of the UN Security Council today to discuss North Korea, two days after a rare Senate briefing on the threats and possible action.
A joint statementon Wednesday by Tillerson, Secretary of Defence James Mattis and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said the administration's approach aims to pressure North Korea by ''tightening economic sanctions and pursuing diplomatic measures with our Allies and regional partners''.
Nick Bisley, an international relations expert at La Trobe University, told CNN Washington is trying to ''send a signal of toughness and resolve to Pyongyang while simultaneously holding open the door for negotiations and discussions''.
''The problem is the execution has been terrible,'' he said.
He pointed to the large number of vacancies at the State Department as an explanation for the poor messaging, a situation that has concerned national security experts, frustrated lawmakers and confounded foreign diplomats.
Russia, China urge talks
Both China and Russia this week pushed for greater dialog on the North Korea issue, with Russian President Vladimir Putin calling for the resumption of six-party talks.
The talks - between the US, North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia and Japan - were intended to prevent the nuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, but they broke down in 2009 and multiple attempts to restart them have failed.
In the intervening years, North Korea has conducted four nuclear tests, including a purported hydrogen bomb test.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Thursday that China's thinking on North Korea matches ''Russia's relevant proposals'' and praised the countries' ''comprehensive strategic partnership''.
As North Korea's main ally, China is seen as vital to any settlement of the nuclear issue, and Trump praised Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday.
''He certainly doesn't want to see turmoil and death,'' Trump said in the interview. ''I know he would like to be able to do something, perhaps it's possible that he can't.''
Trump's comments come a day after his administration briefed nearly every US senator on the North Korea issue, a rare gathering of the entire Senate at the White House.
Some senators said they were reassured by the hour-long update - led by Trump's national security advisers - but learned little new information from it.
North Korea has dominated much of Trump's first 100 days in office, as Pyongyang paraded missiles and threatened US forces in the region.
Around four in 10 Americans see North Korea as an ''immediate threat'' to US security, according to a new CNN/ORC poll. Most Americans (67 per cent) say they support using military troops to help defend South Korea should the North attack.
On Thursday, a North Korean official told CNN the country's nuclear tests would ''never stop'' as long as the US continued what they viewed as ''acts of aggression''.