North Korea fires two ballistic missiles into sea
North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the East Sea, Japan’s prime minister said, the first major provocation by Pyongyang since President Biden entered office.
The launch came a day after South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff disclosed that Pyongyang had fired two cruise missiles off its west coast on Sunday, its first missile test in approximately a year.
A U.S. Indo-Pacific Command spokesperson said in a statement the U.S. military was aware of the launch.
“We will continue to monitor the situation and are consulting closely with our allies and partners,” the statement read. “This activity highlights the threat that North Korea’s illicit weapons program poses to its neighbors and the international community.
Japan’s Coast Guard urged ships to be on alert Thursday after the latest launch.
“Vessels are requested to pay attention to further information and to keep clear when recognizing falling object,” the Japanese Coast Guard alert stated.
The projectiles launched by North Korea were identified as ballistic missiles by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who said he will “thoroughly discuss” North Korea with Biden when he visits Washington next month.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said South Korean and U.S. intelligence agencies were examining data from the launch, according to a statement reported by Reuters.
Two senior U.S. administration officials had previously confirmed that North Korea tested a “short-range system” over the weekend, though the officials downplayed it as “normal military activity” by Pyongyang.
Biden also told reporters Tuesday that “nothing much has changed” and appeared to laugh off a question about whether that test affected diplomacy.
Harry J. Kazianis, senior director of Korean Studies at the Washington-based Center for the National Interest, said the latest launch may have been a response to Biden’s reaction to the previous test.
“The Kim regime, just like during the Trump years, will react to even the slightest of what they feel are any sort of loss of face or disparaging comments coming out of Washington,” Kazianis said in an emailed statement.
North Korea resumed weapons testing following weeks of anticipation after Biden entered office.
Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during his confirmation hearing in January that the administration planned to “review the entire approach and policy toward North Korea, because this is a hard problem that has plagued administration after administration.”
Negotiations between North Korea and the U.S. on nuclear weapons stalled under former President Trump after their second summit in February 2019. The talks fell apart after North Korea requested eased sanctions in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.
North Korean leaders have not directly returned the Biden administration’s communications. Instead, state media published Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui’s statement that the country won’t speak to the U.S. until it “rolls back its hostile policy” toward North Korea.
Pyongyang has also protested the joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un‘s sister issuing a cautionary statement to the Biden administration.
“We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off powder smell in our land,” Kim Yo Jong said. “If it wants to sleep in peace for [the] coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.”
– Rebecca Kheel contributed
Updated: 10:53 p.m.