U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Thursday the escalating threat from North Korea's nuclear program showed a clear need for a "new approach," although he stopped short of detailing what steps the Trump administration would pursue.
Tillerson was speaking at a news conference following talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, the start of his first trip to Asia as secretary of state. It was the first time Tillerson, a former oil executive with no prior diplomatic experience, took questions from the media since joining office in early February.
Two decades of diplomatic and other efforts, including aid given to North Korea by the United States, had failed to achieve the goal of denuclearizing Pyongyang, he said.
"So we have 20 years of failed approach," Tillerson said. "That includes a period where the United States has provided $1.35 billion in assistance to North Korea as an encouragement to take a different pathway."
He added: "In the face of this ever-escalating threat, it is clear that a different approach is required. Part of the purpose of my visit to the region is to exchange views on a new approach."
Tillerson visits South Korea and China later in the week. The New York Times reported on Wednesday he will warn Chinese officials that the United States would increase missile defenses in the region and target Chinese banks if Beijing does not constrain North Korea's nuclear and missile ambitions.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said on Wednesday that Tillerson will have "substantive, hard" talks with U.S. partners in Asia on next steps in dealing with North Korea, but his visit was not likely to produce an immediate specific response.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying repeated Foreign Minister Wang Yi's proposal last week that North Korea should stop its nuclear and missile tests and South Korea and the United States should stop joint military drills and seek talks instead.
"We welcome all parties, including the United States, to come up with their own proposals," Hua told a daily news briefing. "As long as these proposals are conducive to ameliorating the present tense situation on the Korean peninsula and are beneficial to maintaining regional peace and stability ... China will have an open attitude."
Tillerson made it clear he expected China to do more.
"We will be having discussions with China as to further actions we believe they might consider taking that would be helpful to bringing North Korea to a different attitude about its future need for nuclear weapons," he said.