UNITED NATIONS: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Washington will push for a tougher global response to North Korea during a meeting Friday of the UN Security Council that will see China come under heavy pressure to rein in its ally.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was in New York for the meeting that follows weeks of warnings from the US administration that it will no longer tolerate North Korea's missile launches and nuclear tests.
President Donald Trump has said he would prefer a diplomatic solution, but acknowledged the stand-off is highly dangerous.
"There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely," he told Reuters. "We'd love to solve things diplomatically, but it's very difficult."
The United States has called for stronger UN sanctions on North Korea, but it wants China to take the lead in diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis by using its leverage on Pyongyang.
"We are going to be discussing what steps may be necessary to increase pressure on Pyongyang to have them reconsider their current posture," Tillerson said in an interview with Fox News on the eve of the meeting.
Turning to China, Tillerson said: "We are going to test their willingness to help us address the serious threat.
"We were told by the Chinese that they informed the regime that if they did conduct further nuclear tests China would be taking sanctions actions on their own."
Tillerson said the United States is not ruling out direct dialogue with North Korea but that it would seek guarantees that Pyongyang is ready to abandon its nuclear and missile programs.
"Obviously, that would be the way we would like to solve this," he told National Public Radio, when asked whether Washington seeks talks with Pyongyang.
"But North Korea has to decide they're ready to talk to us about the right agenda -- and the right agenda is not simply stopping where they are for a few more months or a few more years and then resuming things."
No resolutions will be adopted at the UN meeting, but it will allow the United States and its allies to put the onus on China to use its leverage to rein in Pyongyang.
North Korea is seeking to develop a long-range missile capable of hitting the US mainland with a nuclear warhead, and has so far staged five atomic tests, two of them last year.
China, Pyongyang's number one trade partner, has repeatedly called for a return to talks on denuclearization but has been reluctant to use economic pressure that could destabilize North Korea.
The Security Council has imposed six sets of sanctions on North Korea -- two adopted last year -- to significantly ramp up pressure and deny Kim Jong-Un's regime the hard currency revenue needed for his military programs.
But UN sanctions experts have repeatedly told the council that the measures have had little impact on Pyongyang because they have been poorly implemented.
The United States, which holds the council presidency this month, will urge UN member-states to take steps to fully implement the sanctions, the toughest currently to hit any country.
The meeting of the top UN body comes just days after South Korea received the first deliveries of equipment for a new missile defense system from the United States.
Washington and Seoul are deploying the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), meant to intercept and destroy short and medium-range ballistic missiles during their final phase of flight.
China has fiercely opposed the deployment, warning that it will stoke tensions on the peninsula.
Beijing has proposed a freeze on North Korea's nuclear and missile activities in exchange for a halt to the annual US-South Korea military drills that have infuriated Pyongyang.
But Washington flat-out rejected that offer, saying the onus is on North Korea to show it is willing to open up for talks.
As the United States presses on with its new diplomatic strategy on North Korea, it has also deployed an aircraft carrier strike group to the western Pacific led by the USS Carl Vinson.
"We want to bring Kim Jong-Un to his senses, not to his knees," said US Admiral Harry Harris, who heads Pacific command.