The Trump administration is debating a “bloody nose” attack on North Korea, recent reports say, with the president’s inner circle split and apparently teetering between endorsing a strike and holding out hope for diplomacy.

Both The Telegraph and The Wall Street Journal have portrayed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis as trying to caution President Donald Trump against a strike, and the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, as advocating it.

The reports come after months of mixed messages and dozens of shifts in the US’s stance on North Korea.

The bloody-nose strategy, which calls for a sharp, violent response to some North Korean provocation, puts a lot of weight on the US’s properly calibrating an attack on North Korea and Pyongyang’s reading the limited strike as anything other than the opening salvo of an all-out war.

For that reason, even the limited strike envisioned by North Korea hawks carries a tremendous risk of global — and possibly nuclear — catastrophe.

In mid-December, Tillerson made headlines by appearing to announce a major change in the US’s North Korea policy.

“We’re ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk, and we’re ready to have the first meeting without precondition,” Tillerson said.

Asked specifically about the apparent shift, the White House said, “The president’s views on North Korea have not changed.”

Meanwhile, McMaster flew to the opposite end of the spectrum, saying the chance of war was “increasing every day” and telling BBC News the US would “compel the denuclearization of North Korea without the cooperation of that regime” if needed.

Mattis, characteristically, has been tight-lipped on the subject.

Throughout his presidency, Trump has also appeared all over the map on North Korea, alternating between relishing the opportunity to negotiate with the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, and taunting him about the size and power of his nuclear arsenal. At one point, Trump directly undercut Tillerson, telling him he was “wasting his time” trying to talk to North Korea.

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