By Idrees Ali and Soyoung Kim
WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday declared "talking is not the answer" to the tense standoff with North Korea over its nuclear missile development, but his defense chief swiftly asserted that diplomatic options remain and Russia demanded U.S. restraint.
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Trump's comment, a day after Pyongyang fired a ballistic missile over Japan that drew U.N. and other international condemnation, renewed his tough rhetoric toward reclusive, nuclear-armed and increasingly isolated North Korea.
"The U.S. has been talking to North Korea, and paying them extortion money, for 25 years," Trump, who just last week said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was "starting to respect""the United States, wrote on Twitter. "Talking is not the answer!"
When asked by reporters just hours later if the United States was out of diplomatic solutions with North Korea amid rising tensions after a series of missile tests by Pyongyang, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis replied: "No."
"We are never out of diplomatic solutions," Mattis said before a meeting with his South Korean counterpart at the Pentagon. "We continue to work together, and the minister and I share a responsibility to provide for the protection of our nations, our populations and our interests."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke by telephone with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and urged the United States to refrain from any military action on the Korean peninsula that would be "fraught with unpredictable consequences," Russia's Foreign Ministry said.
Trump, who has vowed not to let North Korea develop nuclear missiles that can hit the mainland United States, had said on Tuesday "all options are on the table," a veiled reference to military force.
Lavrov also said Russia, which wields veto power on the U.N. Security Council, believed any further sanctions on North Korea would be counter-productive, it added.