America's top envoy is sending a message to North Korea that "we are not your enemy," while the White House continues to assert that all options remain on the table to halt Pyongyang's ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.
During a rare appearance at a State Department media briefing Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States does not "seek regime change, we do not seek a collapse of the regime, we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula, we do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th Parallel."
Despite what Tillerson termed North Korea's "unacceptable threat" to the U.S., "we hope that at some point they will begin to understand that and we would like to sit and have a dialogue with them."
Patience in growing thin, however, among some U.S. lawmakers.
Senator Lindsay Graham, a Republican member of the armed services committee, told reporters on Tuesday that "a war with North Korea would be devastating to the region, but it may be the only way to stop their missile program."
Earlier in the day, appearing on NBC's Today show, Graham said President Donald Trump told him "there will be a war with North Korea over their missile program if they continue trying to hit America with an ICBM" and "if thousands die, they're going to die over there."
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about Graham's comments and initially said "all options are on the table."
Sanders was then specifically asked whether "destroying the country, like Lindsay Graham says, is an option?" She replied: "That's not what I'm saying," adding that the president "has been very outspoken about the need to stop North Korea. We've been very focused on stopping the nuclear program, stopping the missiles, stopping the aggression."
'False sense of urgency'
However, the talk of the possibility of a first military strike on North Korea is alarming to some analysts.
"It would also result in millions of casualties and trillions of dollars in economic damage, perhaps triggering a worldwide depression," said Joel Wit, Senior Fellow at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
"Given those consequences, we have to seriously ask ourselves: Have we exhausted all possible options for dealing with the North including dialogue and diplomacy? The answer is no," Wit tells VOA.
Mansfield Foundation President and CEO Frank Jannuzi agrees, stating "the idea that they can't be deterred is fueled by the assumption that North Korea is crazy, which they are not. They are rational actors."
If eliminating Kim Jong Un's regime is the goal, that might require full-scale war, according to Georgetown University Adjunct Assistant Professor Balbina Hwang, who warns that Graham and others sharing his view likely have not considered the consequences.
"And I doubt anyone in the Trump administration is remotely ready, at this time, to pursue any such a course of action," Hwang told VOA.
On Monday, Trump uttered assurances during the start of his Cabinet meeting that the threat from North Korea will be taken care of. "We'll handle North Korea. We're going to be able to handle them. It will be handled. We handle everything," Trump said.
"This is a classic example of false sense of urgency. It's how we got into the Iraq war," Jannuzi told VOA. "For the last 11 years, the North Koreans have had a nuclear weapon and could have put it on a freighter and sailed it into Long Beach [California] harbor."
Looking to China
Days earlier, Trump expressed disappointment on social media that Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom he hosted three months earlier, had not been able to pressure North Korea into stopping the missile tests.
Tillerson on Tuesday said he does not blame the Chinese for the situation in North Korea, and the U.S. would continue to seek Chinese help in achieving dialogue with Pyongyang.
Mixed messages from Washington to the North Korean capital are nothing new, according to Hwang, who previously served as a senior special adviser on North Korea at the State Department.
Hwang says every U.S. administration, going back to the Clinton era, "has struggled with contradictory stances on how to deal with North Korea," each pursuing policies that seem to work at cross purposes, such as imposing sanctions while holding dialogue.
"The willingness to pursue diplomatic approaches is not inconsistent with maintaining the position that military force remains an option," Hwang added.
North Korea last Friday test-fired its second intercontinental ballistic missile within a month.
Analysts say the missile, which flew for approximately 45 minutes and reached an altitude of about 3,700 kilometers, demonstrated Pyongyang's capability to strike numerous major U.S. cities.
Source: Voice of America