Speaking with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se (R) at a joint press conference in Seoul on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said military conflict should be avoided but North Korea threats will be met with an "appropriate response." Photo courtesy of Song Kyung-seok Pool/EPA
March 17 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday he is not ruling out military action against North Korea if a threat warrants it.
Tillerson, who had described past U.S. North Korea policy as a "failure," told reporters in Seoul on Friday the Trump administration would not pursue President Barack Obama's principle of "strategic patience" in the face of nuclear threats, South Korean news service Newsis reported.
"Certainly, we do not want things to get to a military conflict...but obviously if North Korea takes actions that threatens the South Korean forces or our own forces, then that would be met with an appropriate response," Tillerson said, according to CNN.
He added, "If [North Koreans] elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe that requires action, that option is on the table."
The top U.S. diplomat made the remarks after visiting the truce village of Panmunjom, where a North Korea border guard was seen taking his photograph as he toured the area.
Tillerson also criticized China's economic retaliation against South Korea for Seoul's joint decision to deploy the U.S. missile defense system THAAD on the peninsula.
"[Beijing's] economic retaliation against South Korea is inappropriate and troubling," he said.
China's foreign ministry said Friday that China remains firmly opposed to THAAD, and officials have suggested U.S. military exercises should be halted to ease tensions.
Tillerson has dismissed suggestions from China that the United States should stop the drills, CNN reported. He is scheduled to visit Beijing on Saturday.