The US has said it is ready to fight against North Korea if necessary.
As worldwide attention focused on the escalation of tensions between the US and Iran following the killing of General Qassem Soleimani in an airstrike, comments from Defense Secretary Mark Esper confirmed that America remains ready for conflict with North Korea.
Speaking in an interview with Fox News on Thursday, he said while a political agreement on denuclearisation remained preferable, the US was ready to fight if needed.
His comments follow a four-day meeting of party officials in Pyongyang, during which Kim Jong-un suggested that North Korea would lift its moratoriums on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests, contrary to what was agreed with Donald Trump.
The North Korean leader also reportedly revealed plans to introduce a “new strategic weapon”.
The move was feared to anger Mr Trump, who previously announced that his diplomacy resulted in North Korea agreeing to denuclearise.
But the US President said he believed the North Korean leader would keep his word, telling reporters: “He did sign a contract, he did sign an agreement talking about denuclearisation. ... That was done in Singapore, and I think he’s a man of his word, so we’re going to find out.”
Recent months have seen diplomatic relations stall between the US and North Korea, with a second summit between Mr Trump and Kim Jong-Un collapsing.
Defense Secretary Mr Esper’s comments come amid fears of further escalation in the Middle East over Mr Trump’s decision to launch an airstrike on Iran’s most powerful general.
The US President now faces the twin threat of war with both North Korea and Iran - which would prove a considerable foreign policy challenge.
While America’s relationship with North Korea is separate from its dealings with Iran, Tehran is one of the few countries that has good relations with Korea and any escalation over the killing of General Soleimani could see the issues become intertwined.
The issue is still further complicated by the role of China, which is considered an ally of both Iran and North Korea. Indeed, China took part in a naval drill alongside Russia and Iran last week.
Mr Esper’s comments were also reported by PressTV, Iran’s state media channel.
Mr Esper added on Fox: “We think the best path forward with regard to North Korea is a political agreement that denuclearizes the peninsula, we are on that path, we are going to remain on the path.
“We would obviously urge Kim Jong-un and his leadership team to sit back down to negotiation table to do that. But that said, we remain from a military perspective ready to fight tonight.”