Tillerson urges UN to 'act before North Korea does,' calls for new sanctions

Key Points
  • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged a U.N. Security Council meeting to increase economic pressure on North Korea.
  • On Monday, President Donald Trump told ambassadors to prepare for the possibility of imposing tougher sanctions.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday urged the United Nations to take new sanctions against North Korea, again ramping up rhetoric against the isolated nation.

Speaking to a U.N. Security Council meeting, the top American diplomat said the nations must put "new pressure" on Pyongyang amid the "growing threat" of its nuclear efforts. He pushed for allies to fully implement existing sanctions, suspend or reduce diplomatic relations with North Korea and exert "maximum economic pressure."

"I urge this council to act before North Korea does. We must work together to adopt a new approach and impose increased diplomatic and economic pressures on the North Korean regime," Tillerson said.

Tillerson added that the threat of a North Korean attack on South Korea or Japan is "real." Those nations, along with the United States and China, have aimed to curb North Korean aggression without sending the region into a destabilizing conflict. On Monday, President Donald Trump told ambassadors from Security Council countries that they should prepare for the possibility of imposing newer, tougher sanctions on North Korea.

Tillerson said the U.S. does not seek regime change and does not want to "threaten the North Korean people or destabilize the Asia Pacific region."

The comments came a day after House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy announced the chamber would hold a vote on sanctions on North Korea next week. He said the act would target North Korea's shipping industry and "those who employ North Korean slave labor abroad."

In his comments Friday, Tillerson called on the nations to "suspend or downgrade" diplomatic relations with North Korea. He also urged new sanctions on "entities and individuals supporting [North Korea's] weapons and missile programs" while tightening those in place.

Tillerson added that "all options," including military action, are in play. He said the U.S. prefers a negotiated solution.

"Diplomatic and financial levers of power will be backed up by willingness to counteract North Korean aggression with military action, if necessary," he said.

In a recent interview with Reuters, Trump said a "major, major" conflict with North Korea is possible.