North Korea test-fires first ballistic missiles since Biden took office

Photo: AP A photo showing North Korea's missile launch is displayed at the Unification Observation Post in Paju, near the border with North Korea, South Korea, 24 March 2021.

North Korea on Thursday test-fired its first ballistic missiles since President Joe Biden took office, as it expands its military capabilities and increases pressure on Washington while nuclear negotiations remain stalled, AP reported.

Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga said the launches threaten “peace and safety in Japan and the region,” and that Tokyo will closely coordinate with Washington and Seoul on the North’s testing activities.

South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong, after meeting his Russian counterpart in Seoul, expressed “deep concern” over the launches 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. from an area on the North’s eastern coast and flew 450 kilometers on an apogee of 60 kilometers before landing in the sea. It said South Korea’s military has stepped up monitoring in case of “further provocations” from the North.

A senior US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military observations, matched the information from South Korea’s military, 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 US Indo-Pacific Command spokesperson Capt. Mike Kafka.

The launches came a day after US 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 new U.S. administrations with missile launches and other provocations aimed at forcing the Americans back to the negotiating table.

Still, Thursday’s launches were a measured provocation compared to the nuclear and intercontinental missile tests in 2017 that inspired war fears before the North shifted toward diplomacy with the Trump administration in 2018.

Analysts say that the North would gradually dial up its weapons displays to increase its bargaining power as it angles to get back into stalled talks aimed at leveraging nuclear weapons for badly needed economic benefits.

It’s unclear how the Biden administration would respond before it completes its policy review on North Korea in the coming weeks.

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