SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday it may be necessary to take pre-emptive military action against North Korea if the threat from their weapons program reaches a level “that we believe requires action.”

Tillerson outlined a tougher strategy to confront North Korea’s nuclear threat after visiting the world’s most heavily armed border near the tense buffer zone between rivals North and South Korea.

Asked about the possibility of using military force against the North, Tillerson told a news conference in the South Korean capital, “all of the options are on the table.” 

He said the U.S. does not want a military conflict, “but obviously if North Korea takes actions that threatens South Korean forces or our own forces, that would be met with (an) appropriate response. If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action that option is on the table.”

But he said that by taking other steps, including sanctions, the U.S. is hopeful that North Korea could be persuaded to take a different course before it reaches that point.

Past U.S. administrations have considered military force because North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile to deliver them, but rarely has that option been expressed so explicitly.

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