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US seeks North Korea talks after biggest missile test in years

News broadcast with file footage of a North Korean missile test, at a railway station in Seoul on Jan. 30, 2022. (Jung Yeon-je/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

The Biden administration reiterated that it’s ready to hold talks with North Korea without preconditions, a day after Kim Jong Un’s regime fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile for the first time since 2017.

Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency on Monday “confirmed the accuracy, security and effectiveness of the operation of the Hwasong 12-type weapon system under production.” It said the launch was conducted at the highest angle “in consideration of the security of neighboring countries.”

A senior administration official described North Korea’s recent series of missile launches as destabilizing, a threat to North Korea’s neighbors and U.S. forces in the region, and a breach of United Nations Security Council resolutions. Still, the U.S. is committed to diplomacy with North Korea and hasn’t received a response from Pyongyang to an offer for dialogue, the official said.

Sunday’s test provided a reminder to the White House that Kim’s nuclear arsenal remains among the United States’ biggest foreign policy challenges despite former President Donald Trump’s unprecedented face-to-face meetings with the North Korean leader. It also marks the end of a moratorium on tests of long-range missiles Kim announced in the run-up to the first Trump summit, signaling that Kim may soon test another intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the entire U.S. homeland.

The U.S. official declined to spell out how the U.S. might take action if diplomacy fails. A solution will require direct engagement and diplomacy on denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, the official said, adding that the U.S. has been seeking to have direct discussions and is ready to meet anytime at any place without preconditions.

Even so, the time isn’t right for a meeting between Kim and President Joe Biden, who has said that it would have to have a clear purpose — a condition that’s nowhere close to being met, the official said.

The Hwasong-12 was last tested in 2017 and could be used to hit U.S. military bases in Guam. The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said it was consulting with South Korea and Japan on the test. “The United States condemns these actions and calls on the DPRK to refrain from further destabilizing acts,” it said in a statement, referring to North Korea by its formal name.

This month, Kim’s regime has set off a record volley of missile tests designed to hit South Korea and Japan, which host the bulk of U.S. troops in the region. These include hypersonic systems designed to use high speeds and maneuverability to evade U.S.-operated interceptors.

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