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North Korea tested missiles in first challenge to Biden administration: US official

Paul Handley - Agence France-Presse
North Korea tested missiles in first challenge to Biden administration: US official
(FILES) This files screen grab image taken from North Korean broadcaster KCTV on August 1, 2019 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watching the launch of a ballistic missile at an unknown location in North Korea early on July 31. North Korea fired several missiles just days after a visit to the region by the top US defense and diplomatic officials, a US official said on March 23, 2021, in Pyongyang's first overt challenge to the administration of US President Joe Biden.
AFP / KCTV, Handout

WASHINGTON, United States — North Korea fired several missiles just days after a visit to the region by the top US defense and diplomatic officials, the White House said Tuesday, in Pyongyang's first overt challenge to the Biden administration.

But administration officials, speaking anonymously, downplayed the missiles as "common" military testing and said they would not block Washington's efforts to engage with North Korea on denuclearization.

Two missiles were fired on Sunday, they confirmed, echoing Pyongyang's past practices for provoking and testing both Washington and Seoul.

But they were short-range, non-ballistic missile systems that do not fall under UN security council resolutions banning more threatening weapons, a senior US administration official told reporters.

It was nothing like the nuclear weapon tests or ballistic missile launches that Pyongyang has used to provoke previous US governments, the official said.

"What we saw this weekend does not fall in that category," the official said.

"It is common practice for North Korea to test various systems," the official said.

"We do not respond to every kind of test."

Reigniting talks

The launches came just days after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited Japan and South Korea to discuss their alliance and security issues in the region, with nuclear-armed North Korea seen as a central threat.

Their visit also followed March 8-17 joint exercises by US and South Korea defense forces.

While Blinken and Austin were in Seoul on March 18, North Korean first vice foreign minister Choe Son Hui accused the United States of a "lunatic theory of 'threat from North Korea' and groundless rhetoric about 'complete denuclearisation.'"

President Joe Biden's two-month-old administration hopes to reignite negotiations with the Kim Jong Un regime on its nuclear arsenal after efforts by the previous administration of Donald Trump stalled.

Initial outreach from Washington to Pyongyang has turned up empty, but US officials are hopeful they can reconnect, while working in coordination with allies Japan and South Korea.

Trump met with Kim twice, in Singapore and Vietnam, with both sides heralding a breakthrough in relations.

But even as the United States pulled back on some joint training activities with South Korea's military and the North froze ballistic missile tests, after the February 2019 Trump-Kim Hanoi summit communications between the two sides dried up.

Biden officials are now finalizing a strategy to restart talks that the White House will discuss with Japanese and South Korean security officials next week, the administration official said.

"We have taken efforts and we will continue to take efforts" to communicate, the official said.

But the official added that Pyongyang cannot expect concessions — such as cutting back on bilateral military exercises — from Biden.

"The hope of diplomacy really rests on the reality of deterrence and our forward-deployed capabilities," the official said.

"So we thought that some of the efforts that were taken previously to turn off necessary exercises were actually antithetical to our position."

Small cruise missile

Analysts said the initial silence of South and North Korea, as well as the United States, on the missile launches was different from past behavior and possibly a good sign.

North Korean missile tests are commonly accompanied by boastful announcements from Pyongyang and strident attacks from Seoul.

Martyn Williams of the Stimson Center called the lack of comment "curious."

"North Korea usually announces such tests after the fact through state media but nothing this time," he wrote on Twitter.

"The tests are usually also reported pretty quickly after they happen through Japanese and Korean media, but nothing."

Another North Korea expert, Jeffrey Lewis, said that the tests might have been of short-range coastal defense cruise missiles.

"If that's what this is, it's a pretty mild response to a US-ROK military drill," he said, referring to the Republic of Korea.

JOE BIDEN NORTH KOREA UNITED STATES
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: September 16, 2021 - 10:55am

South Korean officials were briefing the White House Thursday on the outcome of their pathfinding meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Seoul has already publicized that North Korea offered talks with the United States on denuclearization and normalizing ties, a potential diplomatic opening after a year of escalating tensions over the North's nuclear and missile tests. The rival Koreas also agreed to hold a leadership summit in late April.

Top Trump administration officials were getting a chance to hear firsthand from South Korean national security director, Chung Eui-yong, who led the delegation that went to Pyongyang. — Associated Press

September 16, 2021 - 10:55am

The UN Security Council on Wednesday gathered behind closed doors for an emergency meeting about North Korea's latest ballistic missile test which member states consider a "major threat," the French ambassador says.

"We all condemned what happened, the tests," he says. "Everyone is very concerned about this situation," de Riviere told several journalists after the 45-minute meeting. 

"This is a major threat to peace and security, it's a clear violation of the Council's resolutions," he adds, saying that the missiles had fallen "within Japan's exclusive economic zone." — AFP

September 15, 2021 - 2:55pm

According to the South's military, the North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the sea as China's foreign minister visited Seoul -- Pyongyang's second launch in less than a week.

Analysts said the timing was an unmistakable signal to Beijing, the North's key diplomatic ally and main partner for trade and aid -- although at times their relationship has been deeply strained.

Pyongyang is under a self-imposed blockade after closing its borders early last year to protect itself against the coronavirus pandemic. — AFP

September 15, 2021 - 12:02pm

North Korea fired an unidentified projectile into the sea on Wednesday, according to the South's military, days after Pyongyang said it had successfully tested new long-range cruise missiles.

The nuclear-armed North had "fired an unidentified projectile into the East Sea", Seoul's joint chiefs of staff says in a statement to AFP. — AFP

September 13, 2021 - 9:53am

The United States military said Sunday missile tests conducted by North Korea over the weekend posed 'threats' to the country's neighbors and beyond. 

"This activity highlights DPRK's continuing focus on developing its military program and the threats that poses to its neighbors and the international community," the US Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement, using the North's official name. — AFP

September 13, 2021 - 7:24am

North Korea has test-fired what it called a new type of "long-range cruise missile" over the weekend, the country's state Korean Central News Agency reported early Monday, calling the trials a success.

The test launches, which took place on both Saturday and Sunday, were observed by high-level officials, KCNA said, adding that the tests had been carried out "successfully". — AFP

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