By Patricia Zengerle and Doina Chiacu
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, said on Tuesday time is running out for the United States to act on the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear programs.
"Decision time is becoming ever closer in terms of how we respond to this," Coats said during a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee. "Our goal is a peaceful settlement. We are using maximum pressure on North Korea in various ways."
Coats told the Senate panel's annual hearing on "Worldwide Threats," with testimony from leaders of major U.S. intelligence agencies, that he expected more missile tests from North Korea this year.
"In the wake of accelerated missile testing since 2016, North Korea is likely to press ahead with more tests in 2018, and its Foreign Minister said that (North Korean leader) Kim (Jong Un) may be considering conducting an atmospheric nuclear test over the Pacific Ocean," he said.
He said Pyongyang's repeated statements that nuclear weapons are the basis for its survival suggest government leaders there "do not intend to negotiate them away."
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein asked whether U.S. intelligence has looked into what it might take to bring North Korea to the negotiating table, but Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo declined to discuss the subject during a public hearing.
Feinstein said she had participated in a classified briefing recently on North Korea and described it as "difficult and harsh."
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Andrea Ricci)