North Korea fired multiple short-range missiles over the weekend, just days after issuing threats to President Joe Biden and the U.S. and South Korea to stop conducting joint war games.
Two White House officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, briefed the Associated Press and other news outlets on the launches on Tuesday evening. South Korea’s military also told the Associated Press in a statement that it detected two launches, suspected to be cruise missiles, off of North Korea’s west coast on Sunday morning.
South Korean lawmaker Ha Tae-keung said he learned from South Korean intelligence officials that North Korea fired the two cruise missiles near the western seaport of Nampo, at around 6:36 a.m. Sunday. Ha, who is also an executive secretary of the National Assembly’s intelligence committee, which regularly receives classified intelligence briefings, said he was told that the U.S. and South Korean militaries both detected the launches but had agreed not to immediately publicize them.
President Joe Biden later acknowledged the missile launches in comments to the press after returning from a trip to Ohio late Tuesday. Asked if he considered the missile launches a provocation, Biden said, “No. According to the Defense Department, it’s business as usual. There’s no new — there’s no new wrinkle in what they did.”
While Biden said North Korea’s missile launches are not a new provocation, they came just days after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, said last week that the Biden administration was trying to give off the smell of burnt gunpowder throughout the Korean Peninsula to intimidate the North.
Kim said, “We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off powder smell in our land, if it wants to sleep in peace for the coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.”
Responding to Kim’s remarks, Biden’s Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said last week, “Our force remains ready to fight tonight.”
The new missile launches also come as North Korea has rejected calls from the Biden administration to restart denuclearization talks where his predecessor, President Donald Trump, left off. Last week, North Korea said the U.S. had tried to contact the country’s leaders on multiple occasions since mid-February, but said it didn’t respond to what the Pyongyang government views as another “delaying-time trick.”
North Korean Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Choe Son Hui also said, “We have already declared our stand that no DPRK-U.S. contact and dialogue of any kind can be possible unless the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy towards the DPRK.”
While criticizing the U.S. for showing hostility to North Korea, the north also recently moved rocket launchers to an island near its border with South Korea, in a move the South Korea defense ministry said violates a 2018 inter-Korean military agreement, meant to reduce military activity along the border between the two Koreas.