Tillerson: I'll keep advocating diplomacy with N. Korea 'until the first bomb drops'

Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonTrump administration’s top European diplomat to resign in February Pompeo planning to meet with Pat Roberts amid 2020 Senate speculation Trump concealed details of meetings with Putin from senior officials: report MORE reiterated his stance Tuesday that diplomacy with North Korea is possible, telling a group of world leaders that he would continue pursuing diplomatic solutions "until the first bomb drops."

Speaking at the Atlantic Council Korea Foundation Forum, Tillerson said that he would continue to search for diplomatic solutions with Pyongyang but stressed that Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Supreme Court allows transgender ban to be enforced | Trump missile defense plan faces reality check | Experts warn of persistent ISIS threat 3 Michigan residents arrested for conspiring to provide material support to ISIS: DOJ The Hill's 12:30 Report — White House requests walk-through for State of the Union | Justices allow transgender ban to take effect | Trump vows to not 'cave' on wall MORE is prepared should war break out.

"We need the DPRK to come to the table for talks," Tillerson said, using the acronym for the country's formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. "We're ready to talk any time they'd like to talk."

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"As I've told people many times, I will continue our diplomatic efforts until the first bomb drops," he added. "I'm confident that we're gonna be successful. But I'm also confident that Secretary Mattis will be successful if it ends up being his turn."

Tillerson told the assembled officials from South Korea and the U.S. that the Trump administration had directed a "full range" of military assets to be ready in the region should violence break out.

"In the meantime, our military preparedness is strong," Tillerson said. "Because of the situation, the president has ordered our military planners to have a full range of contingencies available, and they are ready."

North Korea has conducted a series of ballistic missile tests in recent months, including one in late November that the country claimed put the entire U.S. mainland in range.

"It went higher, frankly, than any previous shot they've taken," Mattis said at the time. "The bottom line is it is a continued effort to build a ballistic missile threat that endangers world peace, regional peace and certainly the United States."