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Tillerson warns of "catastrophic" outcome if North Korea not confronted

U.S. on North Korea

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday that the consequences of inaction against North Korea's ballistic and missile programs could be "catastrophic." 

Speaking at a special UN Security Council meeting on the regime, he called on UN member nations to apply "new pressure" to propel the regime towards a path of denuclearization.

"The more we bide our time, the sooner we will run out of it," Tillerson said.

Trump administration calls for worldwide effort to block North Korea

Tillerson proposed that members of the international body suspend or downgrade relations with North Korea and increase North Korea's financial isolation. He said sanctions should be "painful" and promised that the U.S. would not hesitate to sanction entities and individuals backing the regime's nuclear program.

Normalized relations with North Korea are simply "not acceptable," Tillerson said.

He specifically addressed the need for China to take more action against the regime.

"China alone has economic leverage over Pyongyang that is unique, and its role is therefore particularly important. The U.S. and China have held productive exchanges on this issue, and we look forward to further actions that build on what China has already done," Tillerson said, noting that China accounts for 90 percent of North Korean trade.

The U.S.-China talks on North Korea were jumpstarted with a meeting between President Xi and President Trump in Mar-A-Lago earlier this month. The two counties are now in constant contact about what both countries see as an increasing threat to peace in the region.

The Trump administration indicates that these talks have been productive in convincing Beijing to take more robust action against the regime.

"There's a little bit of testing going on right now. They say they're serious," explained the State Department's top diplomat on East Asian affairs, Susan Thornton, earlier this week at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Tillerson declared "business as usual is not an option" and deemed North Korea to be the "most pressing security issue in the world."

The U.S. says it is not trying to bring about regime change in North Korea, and that the primary goal is denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. However, Tillerson wants to see a long-lasting change of course.  

Tillerson has indicated that the U.S. is open to one-on-one talks with North Korea as he says negotiations are the "obviously" the only way forward.

However, the State Department has repeatedly said that the US will not engage in "talks for talk's sake." Tillerson wants action before coming to the table. 

"North Korea must take concrete steps to reduce the threat that its illegal weapons programs pose to the United States and our allies before we can consider talks," he said. 

Other diplomats also voiced their concerns about North Korea. 

What are U.S. military options against North Korea?

"I am alarmed by the risk of a military escalation in the region, including by miscalculation or misunderstanding," explained U.N. Security General Antonio Guterres. He noted that North Korea is one of the longest-standing and most urgent issues before the council. 

"I condemn in the strongest terms [North Korea's] continued violation of Security Council resolutions," he said. 

Before the Council meeting began, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi endorsed the Trump administration's call for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but he also strongly endorsed a proposal to simultaneously suspend U.S.-South Korean training exercises in the region, which the United States opposes. When asked about potential for direct talks between Washington and Pyonyang, Yi simply said that talks are "crucial" regardless of the format.

Tillerson, using a carrot and stick approach, laid out one reason for North Korea to come to the negotiating table: U.S. aid. The U.S. has given $1.3 billion in aid to North Korea since 1995 and says it is willing to resume that aid once the regime begins dismantling their ballistic and missile programs.

"For years, North Korea has been dictating the terms of its dangerous course of action," Tillerson said. "It is time for us to retake control of the situation."

A recent CBS News poll found that a majority of Americans -- 61 percent -- say North Korea can be contained. The same poll also found that only 35 percent of Americans are confident in Mr. Trump's ability to handle the situation. 

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