The United States is looking at "all options" as it seeks to discourage North Korea from conducting a third nuclear test, a senior U.S. military officer said on Tuesday, days after a failed long-range rocket launch by the North that drew international condemnation.
The U.N. Security Council on Monday condemned reclusive North Korea for Friday's rocket launch and warned of further action if Pyongyang carries out a nuclear test, reflecting concern that it may follow a pattern it set in 2009 during its second nuclear test.
Commander of U.S. Pacific Command Admiral Samuel Locklear said Washington had a range of options to consider in response to any further provocation by the North.
"I don't think it would be appropriate to comment on how we would pursue any future military operation, but I can tell you that with the alliance, that we are continually looking at all options," he said when asked whether a surgical strike on the North's nuclear test site was being considered.
The comments came as doubts were raised about the fate of a planned visit by international inspectors to the North's nuclear site after Pyongyang and Washington agreed in February to a moratorium on missile and nuclear tests in return for food aid.
That agreement fell apart when Pyongyang announced it would launch a long-range rocket to put a satellite into orbit, claiming its right to conduct space research. The West believed the launch was merely a ballistic missile test.
North Korea has revealed work on a uranium enrichment program, which arms experts said could give it a second path to building nuclear weapons after its plutonium-based program at Yongbyon nuclear complex was suspended under a 2005 international disarmament deal.
U.S. and South Korean officials have said former U.S. President Bill Clinton considered the possibility of a surgical strike on Yongbyon at the height of a nuclear crisis in 1994 before Pyongyang struck an energy deal with Washington to suspend nuclear activities.