Peace with North Korea is a "possibility", America's most senior uniformed officer said Thursday, but warned the US has "credible, viable military options" for dealing with the errant regime.
General Joe Dunford, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, also told reporters during his visit to Beijing that the US has no plans to "dial back" military exercises with South Korea, which have angered both China and North Korea.
"What's unimaginable to me is not a military option," Dunford said.
"What is unimaginable is allowing (North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un) to develop ballistic missiles with a nuclear warhead that can threaten the United States and continue to threaten the region."
South Korean President Moon Jae-In said Thursday that "there will be no war" on the peninsula.
He added: "All South Koreans have worked so hard together to rebuild the country from the ruins of the Korean War. We can't lose everything with another war."
Dunford, who was in South Korea earlier this week and will land in Japan Thursday evening to discuss tensions around North Korea's growing weapons programme, acknowledged that a military solution would be "horrific".
But he said it would be employed only if diplomatic and economic pressures fail to create the conditions for political dialogue.
"I do believe right now that there's a long way to go, but we are on a path where there is a possibility -- and I hope a probability that we can resolve this peacefully," Dunford said.
On Tuesday, China, which has been accused by the US of not doing enough to rein in Kim's authoritarian regime, started implementing a ban on North Korean imports of iron, irone ore and seafood as part of a far-reaching UN Security Council resolution passed earlier this month.
The resolution called for tough sanctions that could cost Pyongyang $1 billion in annual revenue.
China, the North's biggest ally, accounts for 90 percent of its trade.
"The reports I've heard even since I've been to Beijing have been positive in terms of Chinese commitment to enforce those sanctions," Dunford said, though he urged China on Tuesday to increase pressure on Pyongyang.
The general went against White House Steve Bannon's statement in an interview published Wednesday in which he said "there's no military solution (to North Korea's nuclear threats)".
Dunford said President Donald Trump "has told us to develop credible, viable military options, and that’s exactly what we're doing".
"If the president comes to us with a decision to use military force, we will provide him with options."
The US and North Korea have been engaged in heated verbal sparring since Trump warned Pyongyang that it faced "fire and fury" if it continued to threaten the US and other countries with its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
North Korea responded that it was ready to aim a missile at the American territory Guam, an operation that has since been suspended.