North Korea fired missiles after United States military exercises with South Korea

Wednesday, 24 Mar, 2021

North Korea marshalled two of the most powerful women in its leadership to warn the U.S. over military exercises with South Korea and the diplomatic consequences of its "hostile" policies.

North Korea has carried out its first weapons test since President Joe Biden took office, according to three U.S. officials, launching two projectiles last weekend in a move senior administration officials downplayed as falling "on the low end of the spectrum" of provocative actions the regime could carry out.

The launches followed joint exercises by the US and South Korean militaries earlier this month and came just days after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited Tokyo and Seoul to discuss alliance and security issues in the region, with the North seen as a central threat.

Two short-range, non-ballistic missiles were fired on Sunday, US administration officials said Tuesday, but downplayed them as "common" military testing and said they would not block Washington's efforts to engage with Pyongyang.

Lawmakers and key USA allies are eagerly awaiting details about Mr Biden's North Korea policy, which they expect will be announced publicly in the coming weeks when the administration has completed a policy review, multiple sources familiar with the internal discussions told CNN earlier this month. "There's no new wrinkle in what they did".

The messages come after senior US diplomats visited Japan and South Korea before the meeting with their Chinese peers, as Washington seeks to shore up its alliances in Asia.

That said, "we believe such diplomacy in close coordination with South Korea and Japan, and frankly with China is in the best interest of all those concerned", the official said.

The Biden administration has been open about its desire to engage the North in negotiations even as the regime has batted away calls for the two nations to talk.

Curiously, neither North Korea nor South Korea had acknowledged the firing of the two missiles as is routinely done by both countries.

For weeks, defense officials had been anxious North Korea might restart missile tests.

The Biden team has been studying how best to approach Pyongyang after former President Donald Trump's unusual diplomatic push, which included three historic in-person talks between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Still, the country has refrained from nuclear tests, as well as intercontinental ballistic missile tests, since Kim's first summit with Trump.

But he added: "Pyongyang could elevate the intensity of missile tests from short-range to medium-range in the months ahead if it thinks Washington is doubling down on punitive policy against it".

Satellite imagery from North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear research center detected an uptick in activity earlier this month, worrying US officials.

Mr Kim is in the midst of the toughest crisis of his nine-year rule as the already-troubled economy was hit by coronavirus pandemic-related border closings that have sharply reduced the North's external trade.

In an interview with media outlets including China Global Television Network, Xi called for cooperation between Russian Federation and China in response to hegemony pursued by some Western countries led by the U.S. Lavrov also promoted settlement of deals in currencies that can replace the U.S$. and help reduce risks posed by sanctions.

The official characterized it as "normal military activity by North Korea" adding that the test was on the "low end of the spectrum" of the "normal menu of North Korean actions".

National security adviser Jake Sullivan is also scheduled to meet next week with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts for talks about the way forward with North Korea.