North Korea fired off a pair of cruise missiles off the west coast on Sunday, with top U.S officials confirming the same on Tuesday against the backdrop of top U.S administrative officials visiting the region.
Two missiles were fired from South Pyongan province Sunday morning and flew over the sea between the peninsula and China, the South Korean Defence Ministry said Wednesday. Earlier, U.S. officials in Washington had confirmed the test of a “short-range system,” adding that the incident didn’t appear to violate a United Nations ban on ballistic missile launches by the country.
While launching cruise missiles isn’t prohibited by UN resolutions, Kim Jong Un had refrained from such provocations since testing an anti-ship weapons system in July.
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.
The launches came just days after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence 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 defence 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.