To the degree that a nuclear-free Korean peninsula becomes more difficult, then we would have to consider other options, Rice said at a press conference in Beijing on Monday, without elaborating. The US doesn't intend to attack North Korea, she said.
Rice's comments suggest the US may lose patience with the Pyongyang government after six months of efforts to persuade North Korea to return to the negotiating table. Her remarks may also aggravate tensions with the North, which has cited the US' hostile attitude for its refusal to return for a fourth round of discussions with the US China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.
She is exerting pressure on China, said Pang Zhongying, a professor of political science at Nankai University in Tianjin. Pang described the comments as a diplomatic tactic. The US realises that the talks are the only viable option, he added.
China is willing to work with all concerned parties, including the United States to ensure the talks resume at an early date, Chinese President Hu Jintao told Rice on Sunday, according to the official Xinhua news agency. China, North Korea's ally, brokered the first three rounds of six-party talks held in Beijing.
Rice concluded a six-nation Asian tour by also urging China to decrease tensions with Taiwan and calling for the government in Beijing to adopt a more open political system.
The standoff with North Korea began in October 2002 when the secretive nation acknowledged developing nuclear arms in violation of a 1994 international accord. The North announced on February 10 that it has nuclear weapons and rejected a fourth round of talks.