Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said that the US is open to negotiations with North Korea aimed at removing nuclear weapons from the region.
However, Rex Tillerson said the US would use military force if necessary.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said a peaceful settlement was the “only right choice”.
Rex Tillerson told a UN Security Council meeting that the threat of North Korea launching a nuclear attack on its neighbors was “real”.
Thousands of American soldiers are stationed in North Korea’s regional neighbors – South Korea and Japan.
The secretary of state called on other countries to isolate North Korea diplomatically.
Speaking to the UN Security Council, Rex Tillerson said the US would use diplomatic and financial measures against North Korea – including potential sanctions on companies or individuals with ties to North Korea – but would be willing to consider military action if necessary.
For years, he said, North Korea had dictated the terms of its dangerous course of action.
“It’s time for us to retake control of the situation,” he said.
“The threat of a North Korean nuclear attack on Seoul or Tokyo is real, and it is likely only a matter of time before North Korea develops the capability to strike the US mainland.”
The foreign minister of China, North Korea’s greatest ally, warned against military intervention.
“The use of force does not solve differences and will only lead to bigger disasters,” Wang Yi said.
“Peaceful settlement of the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula through dialogue and negotiations represents the only right choice that is practical and viable,” he added.
Wang Yi also repeated a Chinese offer to halt Pyongyang’s military program in return for a freeze on joint US-South Korea military drills.
The US has rejected the idea in the past, saying the nuclear program must be halted first.
Russia said use of force would be “completely unacceptable”. Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov also called on North Korea to end its nuclear and missile programs.
“The combative rhetoric coupled with reckless muscle-flexing has led to a situation where the whole world seriously is now wondering whether there’s going to be a war or not,” he told the Security Council.
“One ill-thought-out or misinterpreted step could lead to the most frightening and lamentable consequences.”
North Korea has made repeated attempts to miniaturize nuclear warheads and fit them on long-range missiles capable of reaching the US.
It has also made several military shows of strength in recent weeks and the US has sent warships and an anti-missile system to the region in response.