James Mattis
James MattisReuters

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Monday urged military leaders "to be ready" with military options for President Donald Trump to deal with North Korea should diplomacy fail, Politico reports.

"Right now it is a diplomatically led, economic sanctions-buttressed effort to try to turn North Korea off this path,” Mattis said following a speech at the annual convention of the Association of the United States Army in Washington.

“Now, what does the future hold? Neither you nor I can say, so there’s one thing the U.S. Army can do, and that is we have got to be ready to ensure that we have military options that our president can employ if needed.”

The comments come after Trump told Mattis and his top generals in a White House meeting last week that he wanted military options at a “much faster pace.”

The president subsequently suggested to reporters that “maybe it’s the calm before the storm," sparking widespread speculation that the cryptic reference was to Korea war plans.

Mattis last week expressed support for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's effort to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis with North Korea.

"The international community... is focused on the destabilizing threat posed by North Korea and Kim Jong-Un's relentless pursuit of nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities," he said, adding, "The Defense Department supports fully Secretary Tillerson's efforts to find a diplomatic solution but remains focused on defense of the United States and our allies."

On Monday, the Defense Secretary, speaking to audience of soldiers of all ranks and defense industry executives, highlighted the continuing diplomatic focus of the international community to turn back North Korea's outlawed missile and nuclear programs.

“How many times have you seen the UN Security Council vote unanimously, now twice if a row, to impose sanctions on North Korea?” he asked. “The international community has spoken, but that means the U.S. Army must stand ready.”