The Army chief of staff cautioned on Thursday that North Korea's successful launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile earlier this month significantly shortened the amount of time for American officials to broker a diplomatic solution with Pyongyang.
"Time is running out a bit," Gen. Mark Milley said in remarks at the National Press Club. "North Korea is extremely dangerous, and it gets more dangerous as the weeks go by."
Milley said the July 4 test of an ICBM capable of reaching the United States showed that North Korea's military capabilities had advanced significantly and faster than many anticipated.
The Pentagon warned on Tuesday that North Korea will be able to launch a nuclear-capable ICBM by early 2018, accelerating the previous timeline by two years.
One day after the July 4 test, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said America is prepared to use "the full range" of capabilities, including military force, to defend the United States and its allies against Pyongyang.
Milley said the military supports current diplomatic and economic measures aimed at reining in the Kim Jong Un regime, warning that conflict with North Korea would be "highly deadly."
"We are at a point in time where choices will have to be made one way or the other," he said. "None of these choices are particularly palatable. None of them are good. The consequences of doing nothing is not good. The consequences of accepting them with a nuclear weapon that can strike the continental United States is not good … That doesn't relieve us of the responsibility of making a choice."
Upon completing a two-month North Korea policy review in April, the Trump administration announced it would pursue a strategy of "maximum pressure" on Pyongyang in an attempt to counter its nuclear and missile programs through sanctions, diplomatic means, and military options.
The review, led by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, maintains the longstanding option of pre-emptive strikes against North Korea's military systems. It does not call for regime change.
Congress is expected to take up a new round of sanctions against North Korea in September, when lawmakers return from recess.