U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said the U.S. and its allies remain fully prepared to defend themselves from any threat posed by North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Pence, who was in South Korea leading the U.S. delegation to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, made the remark in an interview with NBC in the alpine town some 80 kilometers south of the inter-Korean border.
This year's Olympics kicked off Friday amid keen attention to North Korea's participation in the Games, with the visit of a high-level delegation raising hopes for a thaw in inter-Korean relations and eventually between Washington and Pyongyang.
Pence had an opportunity to meet with both Kim Yong-nam, North Korea's ceremonial head of state, and Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of leader Kim Jong-un, but reports said he appeared to be keeping a distance as he watched the opening ceremony and attended a reception on the sidelines.
"We're going to make it crystal clear that our military, the Japanese self-defense forces, our allies here in South Korea, all of our allies across the region, are fully prepared to defend our nations and to take what is -- action is necessary to defend our homeland," the vice president said in a segment of the interview aired Friday.
"We're going to continue to put all the pressure to bear economically and diplomatically, while preserving all of our military options to see that that happens," he added.
The U.S. has led a campaign of "maximum pressure" involving increasing economic and diplomatic sanctions to force North Korea to come to talks on its denuclearization.
Last year, the communist regime staged three tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the mainland U.S., as well as its sixth and most powerful nuclear weapons test.
While U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea if necessary, South Korea has been eager to use the Olympics as a platform for peace and reconciliation on the peninsula and beyond.
Pence was asked if South Korean President Moon Jae-in requested in their meeting Thursday that the U.S. withdraw any considerations of a military strike on the North.
"President Trump and our allies in the region have agreed to delay our military exercises until after the Olympics," he said, referring to regular South Korea-U.S. military drills that always anger North Korea. "And President Moon has appreciated that." (Yonhap)