Russia joined with China on August 17 in urging the United States not to take military action against North Korea, saying the escalating threats of war being traded between Washington and Pyongyang could reach the "point of no return."
The separate statements from Moscow and Beijing came as U.S. military leaders said once again that they have prepared military "options" if negotiations over eliminating North Korea's nuclear weapons program fail.
"There are strong military consequences if [North Korea} initiates hostilities," U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said after holding security talks with Japanese ministers in Washington on August 17.
Mattis's statement echoed U.S. President Donald Trump's warning last week that North Korea would face "fire and fury" if it threatens the United States, prompting Pyongyang to say it was considering firing ballistic missiles at the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.
The exchange of rhetoric has raised alarms in Moscow and Beijing.
"Any attempt to resolve the problem over the Korean Peninsula by force will lead to a massive tragedy and enormous loss of life," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a news briefing in Moscow on August 17.
There is no alternative to a peaceful settlement, she said.
Dialogue And Consultations
A similar message was voiced in Beijing, where the vice chairman of China's Central Military Commission, Fan Changlong, met with U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford on the Korean situation on August 17.
Fan told the U.S. general that China believes the only effective way to resolve the standoff with Pyongyang is through talks, China's Defense Ministry said.
"China believes that dialogue and consultations are the only effective avenue to resolve the peninsula issue, and that military means cannot become an option," the ministry quoted Fan as saying.
A critical juncture lies ahead on August 21, when the United States and South Korea are due to start annual military drills involving tens of thousands of U.S. and South Korean soldiers.
North Korea has viewed the exercises as preparations for an invasion, and China has urged the United States to scrap the drills in exchange for North Korea halting its tests of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
But Dunford ruled that out on August 17.
"My advice to our leadership is that we not dial back our exercises. The exercises are very important to maintaining the ability of the alliance to defend itself," Dunford said..
"As long as the threat in North Korea exists, we need to maintain a high state of readiness to respond to that threat," he said.
North Korea on August 17 also ruled out suspending its weapons tests.
"As long as the U.S. hostile policy and nuclear threat continue, [Pyongyang] will never place its self-defensive nuclear deterrence on the negotiation table," North Korea's United Nations Ambassador Ja Song Nam told UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a telephone conversation, according to North Korea's UN mission.
Russia's dramatic warning against military conflict appeared to echo a statement made this week by Trump's chief political strategist Steve Bannon, who unlike Trump's other advisers said taking military action is not a realistic option for the United States in Korea.
"Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don't die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don't know what you're talking about, there's no military solution here, they got us," Bannon said in an interview with American Prospect magazine.
With reporting by AP, AFP, dpa, and Reuters