The United States is drawing up plans for a “bloody nose” military attack on North Korea to stop its nuclear weapons program, The Telegraph reported on Wednesday.
The White House, State Department and Pentagon would not comment.
Sources told the newspaper that the White House has “dramatically” stepped up preparation for a military solution in recent months amid fears diplomacy is not working.
One option is destroying a launch site before it is used by the regime for a new missile test. Stockpiles of weapons could also be targeted.
The hope is that military force would show North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un that America is “serious” about stopping further nuclear development and trigger negotiations.
Three sources, including two former U.S. officials familiar with current thinking and a third figure in the administration, confirmed military options were being worked up.
“The Pentagon is trying to find options that would allow them to punch the North Koreans in the nose, get their attention and show that we’re serious", said one former official briefed on policy.
President Donald Trump’s decision to bomb a Syrian government airfield earlier this year to defend America’s “red line” on chemical weapons use is seen as a blueprint. The Trump administration is reportedly more willing to consider military options to end the conflict than widely assumed.
Pressure to act comes from the drop in estimated time it will take for North Korea to develop a missile that could hit America with nuclear weapons, noted The Telegraph.
Just a few years ago it was believed the regime was a decade away from that point, but now the figure has dropped to as little as 18 months, though estimates vary.
Senior figures in the Trump administration have made clear in public that it would be unacceptable for North Korea to reach that position.
Trump has always said a “military option” is on the table, but the administration's focus has been on building economic and diplomatic pressure. However, Kim’s refusal to negotiate has left senior White House figures disillusioned with diplomacy and increasingly considering military avenues, the report said.
One British source who recently attended a briefing with H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, and other officials left feeling alarmed.
“The Americans said deterrence doesn’t work against North Korea and negotiation doesn’t work,” the source told The Telegraph, adding, “Those who heard them left with the impression that military action is very much an option they were considering seriously.”
British officials are continuing to urge their US counterparts to focus on diplomatic solutions and are looking to increase pressure on North Korea, according to the report.
While the Trump administration is considering military options, it said, it is not a foregone conclusion that the US president will choose to go down that path.
There are major uncertainties about how Kim would react if provoked and the regime already has missiles that could strike nearby countries including Japan and South Korea.
Experts also say there is a split in the U.S. administration, with Trump and McMaster more willing to consider military action than Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Last week, the Secretary of State underlined that the United States was seeking a diplomatic opening for negotiations with North Korea on ending its nuclear program and, for the first time, offered "talks with no preconditions."
The White House had responded to Tillerson's remarks by insisting there has been no change in U.S. policy.
Tillerson later backtracked from his offer of unconditional talks, stressing the isolated country must "earn its way back" to the negotiating table.
Previously, Trump appeared to publicly rebuke his Secretary of State, writing on Twitter he thought Tillerson was "wasting his time" trying to negotiate with North Korea.
"I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man...Save your energy Rex, we'll do what has to be done!" the president tweeted.
Trump subsequently vowed that he would not fail as his predecessors did in trying to stop North Korea’s nuclear program.
While Mattis has expressed support for Tillerson's effort to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis with North Korea, he also recently instructed the army to have military options ready in case the diplomatic efforts fail.