North Korea fired two missiles in first test under Biden

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North Korea fired two short-range missiles just days after a visit to the region by the top US defence and diplomatic officials, but President Joe Biden said they were not a serious provocation.

It was nuclear-armed North Korea’s first launch since his inauguration — Pyongyang has been biding its time since the new administration took office, not even officially acknowledging its existence until last week.

Washington is reviewing its approach to Pyongyang after a tumultuous relationship between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which went from trading insults and threats of war to a diplomatic bromance and several meetings but made no substantive progress towards denuclearization.

North Korea on Sunday fired two short-range, non-ballistic missiles, US administration officials said Tuesday, but downplayed them as “common” military testing and said they did not violate UN Security Council resolutions.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said they appeared to be cruise missiles and were fired over the Yellow Sea, known as the West Sea in Korea — so towards China, rather than US ally Japan.

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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.

But it was an unusually restrained response by Pyongyang, which has so far not announced them in state media.

Asked by reporters about the tests, Biden said: “According to the Defense Department, it’s business as usual. There’s no new wrinkle in what they did.”

A senior US administration official told reporters the launches were “on the low end” of the spectrum of North Korean actions, and nothing like the nuclear weapon tests or intercontinental ballistic missile launches with which Pyongyang has previously provoked Washington.

“It is common practice for North Korea to test various systems,” an official added. “We do not respond to every kind of test.”