US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has told the United Nations Security Council that "all options" regarding North Korea "must remain on the table."
"The threat of a North Korean nuclear attack on Seoul or Tokyo is real, and it is likely only a matter of time before North Korea develops the capability to strike the US mainland," Tillerson told a Security Council meeting on Friday about North Korea.
"For too long the international community has been reactive in addressing North Korea," he said. "Those days must come to an end. Failing to act now on the most pressing security issue in the world may bring catastrophic consequences."
Tillerson made the remarks hours after US President Donald Trump warned that a “major conflict” with North Korea is “absolutely” possible in the ongoing standoff over its nuclear and missile programs.
"There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely," Trump told Reuters on Thursday.
Tillerson proposes new sanctions
At the Security Council meeting on Friday, Tillerson called for new sanctions on North Korea, saying the US policy of strategic patience had been largely ineffective in dealing with Pyongyang.
"In light of the growing threat, the time has come for all of us to put new pressure on North Korea to abandon this dangerous path," he said.
"I urge this council to act before North Korea does. We must work together to adopt a new approach and impose increased diplomatic and economic pressures on the North Korean regime," the top American diplomat said.
China warns against use of force
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi meanwhile warned the United States against using military force against North Korea.
"The use of force does not solve differences and will only lead to bigger disasters," Wang told the Security Council on Friday.
US rhetoric could have 'frightening consequences'
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told the UN Security Council that the mounting US rhetoric against North Korea could lead "frightening consequences."
He said the "rhetoric coupled with reckless muscle-flexing has led to a situation where the whole world is seriously wondering whether there is going to be a war or not."
On Wednesday night, Texas Senator Ted Cruz said the Trump administration was considering a range of military actions against North Korea.
“The military is obviously planning for a number of options, as they should -- minimal military action to more significant action,” said Cruz, who attended a “long and detailed” private meeting at the White House, where all 100 members of the Senate were invited to discuss tensions with North Korea.
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During the meeting, Secretary of State Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joseph Dunford, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats briefed the senators on the latest developments with regards to Pyongyang.
The Trump administration has said previously all options are on the table, and has sent an aircraft carrier and a nuclear-powered submarine to the region in a show of force.
The US military has also begun transporting parts of the controversial THAAD missile system to a planned deployment site in South Korea.
Pyongyang has threatened the US with a nuclear attack in case of a direct military action, and has indicated that weapons tests would continue more frequently.