WASHINGTON – North Korea’s military brass is upon its self-imposed deadline to present their supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, with a missile strike plan targeting the waters around Guam, which was publicized last week to the ire of the Trump administration.Should Kim approve the plan, North Korea would fire four intermediate-range ballistic missiles just short of the US island territory, on which two US military bases and 163,000 American citizens reside.North Korea’s top missile chief said the purpose of the operation would be to send Washington a clear message of its willingness to engage. But US President Donald Trump said any action from the North “with respect to Guam” would prompt a harsh US military response.The mid-August deadline coincides with National Liberation Day in South Korea which celebrates the republic’s independence.Despite his vow to rain “fire and fury” on Pyongyang should it proceed with the plan, Trump is resolved to end the present confrontation through diplomacy, US Vice President Mike Pence said on Monday, speaking from Cartagena, to a group of reporters.“We are putting all the resources of the United States and the energies of this president behind an effort to resolve this present confrontation with North Korea peaceably,” Pence said. But he reiterated that all options – including military action – are on the table, and that the era of strategic US patience with the North is now over.To discuss those contingency plans, Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in Seoul on Monday to meet with South Korean leadership. A readout out of his meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in states that Trump views military action as a last resort.“The United States military’s priority is to support our government’s efforts to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula through diplomatic and economic pressure,” Dunford said. “We are preparing a military option in case such efforts fail.” “Nobody’s looking for war,” the general added.The Associated Press reported last week that a diplomatic back channel between the US and North Korea has been activated, although US officials declined to confirm the existence of such a channel on record.In a piece in The Wall Street Journal, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wrote on Monday that Trump is working toward “the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and a dismantling of the regime’s ballistic-missile programs.” They applauded South Korea for moving forward with full deployment of a US missile defense system, known as the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, despite protests from China against the move.China is considered key to resolving the current crisis as the only true ally of the North Korean government. To that end, its Commerce Ministry issued a ban effective from Tuesday on several imports from North Korea, including coal, iron ore, lead concentrates and ore, lead and seafood, in line with sanctions passed through the UN Security Council this month.Beijing issued the banning order on Monday. UN sanctions must be implemented 30 days after the resolution was approved in a vote on August 6.The Chinese government said any cargoes already on their way to China would be cleared by customs as usual before the UN sanctions deadline.