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Envoy believes U.S. not close to military option against North Korea

TOKYO (Reuters) - A U.S. special envoy said on Thursday all options remain on the table for solving the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear missile programme but that he did not think the Trump administration was close to triggering military action.

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Joseph Yun arrives at a meeting with the media in Bangkok, Thailand December 15, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Joseph Yun, the U.S. special envoy on North Korea, said the United States was seeking a peaceful resolution and diplomacy was its preferred option.

“Our policy is very much for the peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear crisis. We’ve said over and over again that what we want to see is dialogue,” Yun told reporters in Tokyo.

“Having said that, we also have said that all options are on the table and by all options, it has to include military options,” he said. “I don’t believe we are close to it.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has refused to give up development of nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States in spite of increasingly severe U.N. sanctions, raising fears of a new war on the Korean peninsula.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly said it prefers a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

However, Trump has exchanged insults and threats with Kim and U.S. officials have said he and his advisers have discussed a preventative “bloody nose” strike on North Korea, alarming experts who warn that this could trigger catastrophic retaliation, especially on South Korea.

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Trump branded North Korea’s leadership as “depraved” and said that Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear missiles could “very soon threaten” the American homeland. [nL2N1PQ073]

Trump vowed to prevent that, but offered no new specifics on how he intended to rein in North Korea.

On Tuesday, the White House said it was no longer considering Victor Cha, a former official who has questioned the wisdom of a preventative strike, for the post of the next U.S. ambassador to South Korea. [nL2N1PP2NQ]

Cha said on Tuesday such a strike carried a huge risk of escalating into a war that could kill hundreds of thousands of Americans.

U.S. officials have said the debate on military action has lost some momentum as a result of rare talks between North and South Korea launched last month to bring North Koreans to this month’s Winter Olympics in the South.

Yun welcomed the North-South dialogue and hoped it was a trend of things to come but said any talks with Washington would have to “be about steps North Korea would take toward denuclearisation”.

Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Nick Macfie and James Dalgleish