North Korea Launched Test Missiles in First Overt Challenge to Biden administration

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"Interceptor Missile" Some rights reserved by The U.S. Army

The administration is conducting a review of the U.S.-North Korea relationship, and says it won’t be easily provoked.

As the Biden administration continues to push for diplomatic engagement, two senior admin officials told reporters on Tuesday that North Korea conducted tests of short-range missiles last weekend on the heels of a tense meeting between the U.S. and China. 


The senior Biden officials tried to downplay the implications of the short range missile tests that North Korea conducted last weekend, telling reporters that the administration does not view it as a “major provocation” and instead recognizes it as acts that are within the category of “normal military activity” for North Korea. 

Officials added that the short-range missile tests that were used by North Korea last weekend is not banned under the United Nations Security Council resolutions. However, the same officials would not disclose details of the action citing “intelligence concerns.”

Meanwhile, North Korea experts believe that said evidence refers to cruise missiles that were fired from North Korea’s west coast. 

Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, a professor at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies said, “It’s clear from the various reports and the [U.S. government] briefing that the U.S. didn’t see the launches” through satellites or radar, “but found out later through intelligence sources.”

Lewis added, “The US (as well as South Korea and Japan) would probably have seen ballistic missiles, so a cruise missile is more likely.”

One of the officials also said, “We do not believe that it is in our best interests to hype these things and circumstances in which we would consider those activities as part of a ‘normal’ set of a tense military environment like we see on the Korean peninsula.”

The press briefing closely followed the report from the Washing Post that first disclosed said missile tests by North Korea last weekend. 

White House officials also added that the missile tests would not “close the door” on future engagement with North Korea. However, they emphasized that the strategy of the Biden administration for dealing with Kim Jong Un regime will revolve around consultation with allies and partners in the region, most specifically Japan and South Korea. 

The officials also said that to that end, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan will be hosting his South Korean and Japanese counterparts in Washington, D.C. next week. They will be among the most senior officials to visit Washington since Biden took office. 

Former President Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un face-to-face three times during his administration. This move was made by the former administration with the hopes that direct engagement would convince the dictator to give up his nuclear arsenal in exchange for economic relief. 

However, the North Korean government essentially stepped back from Washington during the final year of the Trump administration and stayed unreachable during the first several months of the Biden administration. 

Meanwhile, Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, made a warning last week saying, if the Biden administration “wants to sleep in peace for [the] coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.”

Biden officials do not want to make statements as to whether or not they have managed to talk to North Korean government to date. 

One Biden official said, “The content of our diplomacy with North Korea, we tend at this juncture to keep between us directly.” The added, “I will underscore that we have taken efforts and will continue to take efforts, and we believe such diplomacy, in coordination with South Korea, Japan, and China, is in our best interest. We don’t want a situation where it is perceived that our door is not open to talk.”