By Kiyoshi Takenaka and Stephanie Nebehay
TOKYO/GENEVA (Reuters) - Japan said on Tuesday the world must keep pressure on North Korea to rein in its nuclear and missile programs as the United States spelt out the choice for impoverished Pyongyang between belligerence and prosperity.
North Korea has pursued its weapons tests in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions and sanctions and ignored all calls, including from major ally China, to stop, prompting a bellicose exchange of rhetoric between the North and the United States.
North Korea justifies its weapons programs, including its recent threat to fire missiles towards the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, by pointing to perceived U.S. hostility, such as military exercises with South Korea this week.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said pressure must be maintained until the North demonstrated it would give up its nuclear program.
"It's not the time to discuss (the resumption of) six-party talks," Kono said, referring to international negotiations involving both Koreas, the United States, Russia, China and Japan for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
"It's time to exert pressure," he told reporters.
U.S. President Donald Trump's top priority is to protect the United States and its allies against the "growing threat" from North Korea and America is ready to use "the full range of capabilities" at its disposal, a U.S. envoy said.
U.S. disarmament ambassador Robert Wood told a U.N.-sponsored Conference on Disarmament in Geneva the "path to dialogue still remains an option" for Pyongyang and it had the choice between poverty and belligerence and prosperity and acceptance.
There was no immediate reply from the North Korean delegate in the room.
'CRAZY' TO SHARE TIMELINE
The head of the U.S. military's Pacific Command said diplomacy was key.
Admiral Harry Harris was in South Korea to observe annual joint military drills with the South Korean military, which the North called a step towards nuclear conflict masterminded by U.S. and South Korean "war maniacs".
"So we hope and we work for diplomatic solutions to the challenge presented by Kim Jong Un," Harris told reporters at a U.S. air base in Osan, about an hour from the capital, Seoul, referring to the North Korean leader.
He said diplomacy was "the most important starting point" in response to the North's threat, when asked what actions by North Korea might trigger a preemptive U.S. strike against it.
"As far as a timeline, it would be crazy for me to share with you those tripwires in advance. If we did that, it would hardly be a military strategy," he said.
The United States and South Korea began the long-planned exercises on Monday, called the Ulchi Freedom Guardian, which the allies have said are purely defensive.
The drills end on Aug. 31 and involve tens of thousands of troops as well as computer simulations designed to prepare for war with a nuclear-capable North Korea.
A North Korean army spokesman repeated a threat of retaliation against the United States for readying a preemptive strike and a war of aggression, using the drills as an excuse to mount such an attack.
"The U.S. will be wholly held accountable for the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by such reckless aggressive war maneuvers, as it chose a military confrontation," the unidentified spokesman said in comments carried by the North's official KCNA news agency.
The United States and North Korea are technically still at war with the North because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.
(Additional reporting by Christine Kim in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, Tim Kelly in Tokyo; Writing by Jack Kim and Nick Macfie; Editing by Robert Birsel)