Seoul: North Korea tested its first ballistic missile since President Biden took office on Thursday because it expanded its military capabilities and increased pressure on Washington, while nuclear talks are still at a standstill.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said that North Korea’s resumption of ballistic testing threatens “the peace and security of Japan and the region” and Tokyo will closely coordinate North Korea’s military activities with Washington and Seoul.
South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong, after meeting his Russian counterpart in Seoul, expressed “deep concern” and urged the North to uphold its commitments for peace. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called for a swift resumption of dialogue to resolve the standoff with North Korea.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the two short-range missiles were fired at 7:06 a.m. and 7:25 a.m. on the North’s eastern coast and flew 450 kilometers (279 miles) on an apogee of 60 kilometers (37 miles) before landing in the sea.
A senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military observations, matched the information from Tokyo and Seoul, saying that initial assessments suggest the North fired two short-range ballistic missiles.
“This activity highlights the threat that North Korea’s illicit weapons program poses to its neighbors and the international community,” said U.S. Indo-Pacific Command spokesperson Capt. Mike Kafka.
The launches came a day after U.S. and South Korean officials said the North fired short-range weapons presumed to be cruise missiles into its western sea over the weekend.
North Korea has a history of testing the new US government through missile launches and other provocations, designed to force Americans to return to the negotiating table.
Nonetheless, compared with the 2017 nuclear and intercontinental missile tests, Thursday’s launch was considered a provocation, igniting war fears before North Korea turned to diplomacy with the Trump administration in 2018.
Analysts predict that as North Korea returns to stagnant negotiations to use nuclear weapons to obtain much-needed economic benefits, North Korea will gradually increase the strength of its weapons to gain bargaining power.
So far, North Korea has ignored the assistance of the Biden administration, stating that unless Washington abandons its “hostile” policy, North Korea will not engage in meaningful negotiations.
It is not clear how the Biden administration will respond before it completes its policy review of North Korea in the next few weeks.
Last week, Secretary of State Anthony Brinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (Lloyd Austin) traveled to the United States and Japan while Washington was working to restore its alliance in Asia.
During the trip, Brinken severely criticized North Korea’s nuclear program and human rights record, and urged China to use its “huge influence” to persuade North Korea to achieve denuclearization.
North Korean state media said on Tuesday that leader Kim Jong-un reiterated North Korea’s traditional alliance with China and exchanged information with Chinese President Xi Jinping. This was apparently in response to Biden’s efforts to coordinate actions against North Korea with allies.
After the collapse of the second summit between Kim Jong Il and President Donald Trump in February 2019, negotiations on North Korea’s nuclear program came to a deadlock when the Americans rejected North Korea’s request for substantial sanctions in exchange for a partial waiver Its nuclear capabilities.
Since Trump’s first meeting with Kim Jong Il in 2018, North Korea has not conducted nuclear or long-range missile tests, although analysts believe that North Korea has promoted the implementation of these two programs.
During the moratorium on nuclear testing and long-range testing, North Korea continued to conduct short- and medium-range missile tests, expanding its ability to strike targets in South Korea and Japan (including US bases).
Kim Dong-yub, an analyst at South Korea’s Far East Research Institute, said that flight data indicate that North Korea may have tested a new solid fuel system modeled on Russia’s 9K720 Iskander mobile ballistic missile.
Analysts believe that low-altitude flying missiles have potential nuclear capabilities and their design is maneuverable, so they have a greater chance of evading missile defense systems.
The North conducted at least 16 launches of such missiles and other new short-range systems from 2019 to 2020.
Trump has been accused of repeatedly canceling short-range missile tests despite repeated threats to North Korea and Japan, thus giving North Korea room to expand its weapons and equipment.
If Biden takes a different approach by imposing additional sanctions over short-range ballistic launches, the North may use it as an excuse for more provocative tests, including those involving submarine-launched missile systems, said Cheong Seong-Chang, an analyst at South Korea’s Sejong Institute.
Kim Jong Un’s powerful sister last week berated the United States over its latest round of combined military exercises with South Korea this month, warning Washington to “refrain from causing a stink” if it wants to “sleep in peace” for the next four years.
The North’s short-range tests on Sunday were its first known missile firings since April 2020. Biden played down those launches, telling reporters, “There’s no new wrinkle in what they did.”