The nominee for the Pentagon's top official for Asia said Thursday that talks with North Korea will eventually be necessary to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.
Randall Schriver, nominee to be assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs, said he believes diplomacy is the only way to avoid war on the Korean Peninsula.
"I do believe we need to get out of that binary trap of, we either go to war and have military conflict or treat North Korea as a recognized nuclear state," he said during his confirmation hearing at the Senate Armed Services Committee. "The only way you fall anywhere else on that spectrum is through diplomacy."
He noted, however, that North Korea has been reluctant to engage in any kind of dialogue as seen in its rejection of South Korea's proposal for talks
"We need a willing partner on the other side," he said. "The first step is getting to a place where you can talk and then the second step, and equally if not more important, is the substance of and the content of those talks."
The Trump administration's current policy of putting maximum pressure and sanctions on Pyongyang helps create an environment conducive to dialogue, according to Schriver. Strengthening deterrence and working with allies and partner nations will also help pave that path.
"But I agree we should remain entrepreneurial and creative in this because the alternatives are very bad," he said.
If confirmed, Schriver said he hopes to strengthen trilateral cooperation with South Korea and Japan despite the challenges arising from issues related to their shared history.
"I think the fact that North Korea continues with its provocations ... it does make very stark the security threats to both South Korea and Japan and sort of compels them to work together," he said. "So I think we can play a role facilitating that."
Schriver worked as deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs from 2003 to 2005. Before that, he served for two years as chief of staff and senior policy adviser to then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.
He is currently a partner at Armitage International, a consulting firm specializing in international business development and strategies.
Speaking to reporters on a plane to Colorado, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also left open the possibility for talks with North Korea, according to Reuters.
"So long as they stop testing, stop developing, they don't export their weapons, there would be opportunity for talks," he was quoted as saying.