The United States and South Korean officials stated North Korea fired two short-range missiles sometime at the weekend. However, Washington played down the first such tests under President Biden and said it was still open to dialogue with Pyongyang (Capital of North Korea).
On Tuesday, two senior officials of the Biden government told a briefing call that the North Korean move involved weapons systems at the low end of the spectrum that wasn’t covered by the United Nations Security Council testing bans.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff stated that 2 cruise missiles were fired off North Korea’s western coastal town of Onchon on early Sunday.
WASHINGTON, March 23 (Reuters) – North Korea fired two short-range missiles over the weekend, said two U.S. officials on Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the intelligence.
— Vincent Lee (@Rover829) March 23, 2021
On Wednesday, a JCS official told the reporters that Seoul had detected signs a test was imminent and monitored it in real-time. The Joint Chiefs of Staff reports North Korea’s testing of advanced weapons such as nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles nearly in real-time but not some lower-grade tests, shorter-range missiles.
Since Joe Biden took office in January 2020, the launch marks North Korea’s first publicly known weapons test.
However, Joe Biden downplayed the latest action, saying nothing much has altered, while a senior official said it was routine testing and cautioned against exciting it.
Mr. Biden responded ‘NO’ upon his return from a visit to Ohio when asked if the test was a provocation and said that it is business as usual according to the Pentagon. Moreover, there is no new wrinkle in what they did.
The Policy Review Is in the Final Stages
The Pentagon refused to comment on the test, which the Washington Post first reported. North Korea’s mission to the U.N didn’t immediately respond to a request for a statement.
The test came just days after Antony Blinken, U.S. State Secretary, promised to denuclearize North Korea and criticized its widespread and systemic human rights abuses while in Seoul with the American Defense Secretary.
Pyongyang has refused to engage with repeated behind-the-scenes United States diplomatic overtures since mid-February, calling it a cheap trick.
The senior American officials said the government’s North Korea policy review was in its final stages and would host South Korea and Japan’s national security advisers next week to discuss that.
One of the officials stated there had been very little dialogue with North Korea since a failed summit between former President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un in Hanoi in February 2019, at which America sought to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear arms.
The second official stated the outreach from them to North Korea follows over almost a year without active dialogue with North Korea, despite multiple efforts across two administrations to engage. Moreover, they don’t see the action that took place this weekend as closing that door.
A South Korean lawmaker, Ha Tae-Keung, said Washington and Seoul had agreed not to declare their detection of the missile test, citing a meeting by intelligence authorities.
The latest move appeared “pretty mild”
Opposition policymakers and some experts said the American support indicated a coordination breakdown between the allies and suggested Seoul might be seeking to cover up an incitement as it aims to improve cross-border ties.
A professor at Kyungnam University in Seoul, Kim Dong-yup, said that it could’ve indeed been a routine and pre-planned activity. However, he cannot help asking if the administration and the JCS were cautious not to upset Pyongyang.
The JCS official said it doesn’t disclose some North Korean activities to protect its reconnaissance assets based on consultations with the American military.
The director of 38 North, a U.S.-based website that tracks North Korea, Jenny Town, said the latest move appeared pretty mild. She said that her guess is that it has further to do with the joint exercises than anything else. Moreover, she said that this sort of testing around the military drills is pretty common.
North Korea has criticized joint US-South Korean military exercises this month even though they were scaled back in an attempt to resume nuclear dialogue.
According to independent U.N. sanctions monitors, Pyongyang has maintained to develop its nuclear and missile programs throughout last year in violation of United Nations sanctions dating back to 2006, helping fund them with some $300M stolen through cyber-hacks.
Since 2017, North Korea hasn’t tested a nuclear firearm or an ICBM but conducted frequent tests of shorter-range missiles after the Hanoi summit broke down. The Trump government also sought to play down such testing.