United States President Donald Trump on Thursday said that while he would prefer a diplomatic approach to resolving the standoff with isolated North Korea, a “major conflict” was possible owing to the country’s nuclear and missile programmes, Reuters reported. “There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely,” Trump told the news agency.

The president said, “We would love to solve things diplomatically but it is very difficult.” Referring to Pyongyang’s young leader Kim Jong-un’s ascendancy to power at an early age, Trump said “it’s a hard thing to do”. “He is 27 years old. His father dies, took over a regime. So say what you want but that is not easy, especially at that age. I am not giving him credit or not giving him credit, I am just saying that is a very hard thing to do. As to whether or not he is rational, I have no opinion on it. I hope he is rational,” he said.

The United States’ deployment of its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system off South Korea has triggered criticism from China, North Korea’s only major ally. Beijing, however, has said that it has warned Pyongyang of “unilateral sanctions” should it conduct another nuclear test.

Trump had announced that his administration would prevent the North from targeting its mainland with nuclear weapons. Tension started brewing since April 7 when Trump ordered a missile attack in Syria as retaliatory measure to a deadly chemical attack. On April 11, the North Korean state media had warned of a nuclear attack on the United States at any sign of American aggression. The US had dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb on Afghanistan on April 13.