Trump is still open to talks on North Korea, but is 'prepared to defend' US, allies

Key Points
  • After briefing with senators, Trump administration says it wants to pressure North Korea through tighter sanctions and diplomatic channels.
  • White House says U.S. is "prepared to defend" itself and its allies.
Former defense secretary: North Korea is a direct threat to US national security

President Donald Trump wants to pressure North Korea through tighter sanctions and diplomatic channels, but the United States is "prepared to defend" itself and allies, top Trump administration officials said in a statement Wednesday.

As a standoff escalated over the reclusive Asian nation's development of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles, Trump invited all 100 members of the Senate to attend the session with Secretary of State , Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"The president's approach aims to pressure North Korea into dismantling its nuclear, ballistic missile, and proliferation programs by tightening economic sanctions and pursuing diplomatic measures with our allies and regional partners," Tillerson, Mattis and Coats said in a joint statement following the briefing with senators.

The officials said they are working with allies to "increase pressure" on Pyongyang and "convince the regime and de-escalate and return to the path of dialogue." They added that the U.S. seeks "peaceful denuclearization."

Trump has called for a review of U.S. policy toward North Korea. The president said Monday the United Nations Security Council should prepare for the possibility of adopting new, tougher sanctions.

Expert: North Korea is motivated by one thing--regime survival

In particular, the Trump administration has tried to get China, North Korea's only major ally, to push for Pyongyang to dial back its provocation.

While administration officials typically travel to the Capitol building to brief lawmakers on national security issues, on Wednesday the entire Senate hopped on a bus to the White House where four top officials met with them simultaneously. The same four officials will then go to Capitol Hill to brief the entire House at 5 p.m. EDT, a senior House aide said.

After the meeting, Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware called it sobering, according to Reuters.

On Tuesday, after having dinner with Trump the night before, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told Fox News he wants to see the U.S. first use diplomacy through China with military force as a "last resort."

— Reuters contributed to this report

Watch: Lindsey Graham says US will stop 'nut job' in North Korea

Senator Lindsey Graham says the US will stop the 'nut job' in North Korea