The failed North Korean missile test over the weekend was an attempt by the reclusive country to "provoke something," U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday, pledging that the United States will work with China to reduce tensions.
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U.S. President Donald Trump has taken a hard line with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who has rebuffed admonitions from China and proceeded with nuclear and missile programs seen by Washington and others as a direct threat.
On Saturday North Korea carried out a missile launch which the Pentagon said failed, blowing up almost immediately.
Speaking with reporters on his way to the Middle East, Mattis said the most recent test was not an intercontinental ballistic missile but still a reckless move.
"It shows why we are working so closely right now with the Chinese... to try to get this under control and aim for the denuclearized Korean peninsula," Mattis said.
Trump acknowledged on Sunday that the softer line he had taken on China's management of its currency was linked to its help on North Korea.
The United States, its allies and China are working on a range of responses to North Korea's missile test, U.S. officials have said. China itself has spoken out against the North's weapons tests and has supported U.N. sanctions.
It banned imports of North Korean coal on Feb. 26, cutting off its most important export and Chinese media has raised the possibility of restricting oil shipments to North Korea if it unleashed more provocations.
On Monday U.S. Vice President Mike Pence put North Korea on notice, warning that recent U.S. strikes in Syria and Afghanistan showed that the Trump administration's resolve should not be tested.
The Trump administration is focusing its strategy on tougher economic sanctions, possibly including an oil embargo, a global ban on its airline, intercepting cargo ships and punishing Chinese banks doing business with Pyongyang.
The North has warned of a nuclear strike against the United States if provoked. It has said it has developed and would launch a missile that can strike the mainland United States but officials and experts believe it is some time away from mastering the necessary technology, including miniaturizing a nuclear warhead.