WASHINGTON, Sept 16 — The United States said yesterday it had military options to deal with North Korea, signalling its patience for diplomacy is wearing thin after Pyongyang fired a missile over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean for the second time in under a month.
In the latest attempt to deal with an issue that has repeatedly frustrated world powers, the UN Security Council condemned the "highly provocative" missile launch by North Korea.
The council's 15 members had already stepped up sanctions against North Korea in response to a nuclear bomb test it staged on Sept 3, imposing a ban on North Korea's textile exports and capping its imports of crude oil.
White House National Security Adviser HR McMaster said the United States was fast running out of patience for diplomatic solutions on North Korea's missile and nuclear programmes.
"We've been kicking the can down the road, and we're out of road," McMaster told reporters, referring to Pyongyang's repeated missile tests in defiance of international pressure.
"For those ... who have been commenting on a lack of a military option, there is a military option," he said, adding that it would not be the Trump administration's preferred choice.
US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley echoed McMaster's strong rhetoric, even as Washington continued to emphasise that its preferred resolution to the crisis is through diplomacy and sanctions.
"What we are seeing is, they are continuing to be provocative, they are continuing to be reckless and at that point there's not a whole lot the Security Council is going to be able to do from here, when you've cut 90 per cent of the trade and 30 percent of the oil," Haley said.
"So having said that, I have no problem kicking it to (Defence Secretary Jim) General Mattis because I think he has plenty of options," said Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations.
North Korea has launched dozens of missiles under leader Kim Jong Un as it accelerates a weapons program designed to give it the ability to target the United States with a powerful, nuclear-tipped missile.
US President Donald Trump said that he is "more confident than ever that our options in addressing this threat are both effective and overwhelming." He said at Joint Base Andrews near Washington that North Korea "has once again shown its utter contempt for its neighbours and for the entire world community."
North Korea's latest test missile flew over Hokkaido in northern Japan yesterday and landed in the Pacific about 2,000 km to the east, the Japanese government said.
It travelled about 3,700 km in total, according to South Korea's military, far enough to reach the US Pacific territory of Guam, which the North has threatened before.
"The range of this test was significant since North Korea demonstrated that it could reach Guam with this missile," the Union of Concerned Scientists advocacy group said in a statement. However, the accuracy of the missile, still at an early stage of development, was low, it said.
On Thursday, US Secretary of State Tillerson called on China, Pyongyang's only ally, and Russia to apply more pressure on North Korea by "taking direct actions of their own."
But Beijing pushed back.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying denied that China held the key to easing tension on the Korean peninsula and said that duty lay with the parties directly involved. She also reiterated China's position that sanctions on North Korea are only effective if paired with talks.
North Korea staged its sixth and most powerful nuclear bomb test earlier this month and in July tested long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching at least parts of the US mainland.
Last month, North Korea fired an intermediate range missile that also flew over Hokkaido into the ocean.
Warning announcements about the latest missile blared around 7am. (2200 GMT Thursday) in parts of northern Japan, while many residents received alerts on their mobile phones or saw warnings on TV telling them to seek refuge.
The US military said it had detected a single intermediate range ballistic missile but it did not pose a threat to North America or Guam.
On global markets, shares and other risk assets barely moved and gold fell as traders paid little attention to the latest missile test, shifting their focus to where and when interest rates will go up.
Differences over direct talks
Trump has promised not to allow North Korea to threaten the United States with a nuclear-tipped missile.
Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the launch in a phone call with French President Emanuel Macron and agreed on the need for a diplomatic solution, including through resuming direct talks on North Korea.
Asked about the prospect for direct talks, a White House spokesman said, "As the president and his national security team have repeatedly said, now is not the time to talk to North Korea.”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in also said dialogue with the North was impossible at this point. He ordered officials to analyse and prepare for possible new North Korean threats, including electromagnetic pulse and biochemical attacks.
The United States and South Korea are technically still at war with North Korea because the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce and not a peace treaty. The North accuses the United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea, of planning to invade and regularly threatens to destroy it and its Asian allies. — Reuters