Senior US national security officials say a military confrontation with North Korea's is not imminent, but they cautioned that the possibility of war is greater than it was a decade ago.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, President Trump's national security adviser, tried to provide assurances that a conflict is avoidable, while also supporting Trump's tough talk.
They said the United States and its allies no longer can afford to stand by as North Korea pushes ahead with the development of a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile.
"We're not closer to war than a week ago but we are closer to war than we were a decade ago," McMaster said, adding that the Trump administration is prepared to deal militarily with North Korea if necessary.
But he stressed that the US is pursuing "a very determined diplomatic effort" led by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that's coupled with new financial sanctions to dissuade North Korean leader Kim Jong Un from further provocations.
"The US military is locked and loaded every day," McMaster said, repeating Trump's threat.
Pompeo said "there's nothing imminent today," in response to a question about how worried should people be over the escalating tensions.
He said the US has a "pretty good idea" of North Korea's intentions, but Pompeo declined to provide specifics. The CIA chief described Kim as "rational" and responsive to "adverse circumstances".
"The reaction in North Korea that we are intending to get is an is an understanding that America is no longer going to have the strategic patience that it's had that has permitted him to continue to develop his weapons program," Pompeo said. "It's that straightforward."
The top US military officer, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, is travelling in Asia and expected to meet with leaders in South Korea, Japan and China. Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters traveling with him that he aims to "sense what the temperature is in the region".
He also will discuss military options in the event the "diplomatic and economic pressurisation campaign" fails.
"We're all looking to get out of this situation without a war," Dunford said.