This was followed by President Barack Obama's policy of "strategic patience", under which the US waited for North Korea to step back from its nuclear program - an approach that ending up giving Pyongyang time to continue its development.
"Part of the goal of my visit to the region is to exchange views on a new approach", Tillerson added, saying he would highlight the issue in Seoul and Beijing, the next stops on his trip.
"North Korea and its people need not fear the United States or their neighbours in the region who seek only to live in peace with North Korea", Mr Tillerson told a news conference.
Unfortunately, North Korea continues to go after provocative actions in this region, and indeed, your visit here to Japan is very, very timely when we see such a very severe security environment here in the Asia Pacific region. "As time goes by, there will be fewer military conflicts that the US will be directly engaged in".
Even if Mr Tillerson can bring calm to the South China Sea dispute and persuade Beijing to step up sanctions against Pyongyang, there's still one more problem - an economic one.
A question cropped up at Thursday's news conference about talk that the US might put North Korea back on the list of terrorism sponsors.
He also called on China, where he will visit on Saturday, to do more to pressure its ally North Korea. As a result, Congress as well as embassies overseas are filling the vacuum in dealings with foreign governments that have real business to conduct with the USA government.
And China has its own problems with U.S. trade policy.
Friday, Tillerson travels to South Korea, which is in political turmoil after its president was impeached last week over a corruption scandal. "So we have 20 years of failed approach", said Donald Trump's top diplomat said during a visit to Japan.
"These are the things that have been have been on the back burner, but they're kind of what's left", Karako said. "China has long stated their policy that they too want a denuclearized North Korea".
In Tokyo, Tillerson cited North Korea's missile launches this year as evidence of the worsening threat. The following year, then-U.S. President Bill Clinton struck a deal under which Pyongyang promised to freeze nuclear development in exchange for light-water reactors from the U.S. "If our prime minister is in Ankara, he will meet him", Cavusoglu told HaberTurk broadcaster in an interview. His aides have said no options, including a possible preemptory military strike against North Korean nuclear facilities, are off the table. Washington says the manoeuvrs are routine and defensive.
"We expect that the diplomatic press corps will be afforded access to Secretary Tillerson equal to that given to the reporter on the plane", the correspondents association said in its statement. He spoke through a translator.
Military experts have raised the alarm over the progress of Mr Kim Jong Un's regime, which aspires to develop a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the US. Experts say it could have a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the US within a few years.
In response to the series of provocations by North Korea, the USA administration under President Donald Trump is in the process of reviewing its policies toward the reclusive state.
Mr Tillerson's trip starts with Japan, which is likely to be the easiest leg of the journey.
The invitation to McPike upended a tradition of cooperation among reporters covering a traveling secretary of state.