Washington/Seoul: President Donald Trump on Wednesday declared 'talking is not the answer' to the tense standoff with North Korea over its nuclear missile development, but his defense chief swiftly asserted that diplomatic options remain, and Russia demanded U.S. restraint.
Trump's comment, a day after Pyongyang fired a ballistic missile over Japan that drew U.N. and other international condemnation, renewed his tough rhetoric toward reclusive, nuclear-armed and increasingly isolated North Korea.
"The U.S. has been talking to North Korea, and paying them extortion money, for 25 years," Trump, who just last week said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was 'starting to respect' the United States, wrote on Twitter. "Talking is not the answer!"
When asked by reporters just hours later if the United States was out of diplomatic solutions with North Korea amid rising tensions after a series of missile tests by Pyongyang, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis replied: "No."
"We are never out of diplomatic solutions," Mattis said before a meeting with his South Korean counterpart at the Pentagon. "We continue to work together, and the minister and I share a responsibility to provide for the protection of our nations, our populations and our interests."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke by telephone with Tillerson and urged the United States to refrain from any military action on the Korean peninsula that would be 'fraught with unpredictable consequences,' Russia's Foreign Ministry said.
Trump, who has vowed not to let North Korea develop nuclear missiles that can hit the mainland United States, had said on Tuesday 'all options are on the table,' a veiled reference to military force.
Lavrov also said Russia, which wields veto power on the U.N. Security Council, believed any further sanctions on North Korea would be counter-productive, the ministry added.
Japan urged fresh sanctions. In Geneva, U.S. disarmament ambassador Robert Wood said discussions were under way among world powers on what kind of further sanctions could imposed.
North Korea said the launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile on Tuesday was to counter U.S. and South Korean military drills and was a first step in military action in the Pacific on 'containing' the U.S. island territory of Guam.
The 15-member U.N. Security Council Tuesday condemned the firing of the missile over Japan as 'outrageous,' and demanded that North Korea halt its weapons program but the U.S.-drafted statement did not threaten new sanctions.
Trump's mention of payments to North Korea appeared to be a reference to previous U.S. aid to Pyongyang.
A U.S. Congressional Research Service report said that between 1995 and 2008, the United States provided North Korea with more than $1.3 billion in assistance, mostly for food and energy. The aid was part of a nuclear deal that North Korea later violated.
The latest tweet by the Republican U.S. president drew criticism from some quarters in Washington. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy wrote on Twitter: "Bar is high, but this is perhaps the most dangerous, irresponsible tweet of his entire Presidency. Millions of lives at stake, not a game."
Mattis and Tillerson have emphasized finding a diplomatic solution on North Korea, and have used softer tones than Trump on this and other matters.
For example, days after Trump vowed on Aug. 8 to unleash "fire and fury" against North Korea if it threatened the United States, the two wrote a Wall Street Journal commentary assuring Pyongyang that "The U.S. has no interest in regime change or accelerated reunification of Korea."
North Korea had threatened to fire four missiles into the sea near Guam, home to a major U.S. military presence, after Trump's "fire and fury" remark.