North Korea completed a third missile launch in two weeks, marking the most weapons test activity since 2020 and prompting concern among U.S. officials over escalating tensions in the region.
The test of two short-range ballistic missiles marks North Korea’s third launch this month in an apparent reprisal for fresh sanctions imposed by the Biden administration for its continuing test launches.
The previous test launch of a hypersonic missile on Tuesday — the second in a week — was overseen by leader Kim Jong Un, who said it would greatly increase his country’s nuclear “war deterrent.”
U.S. Indo-Pacific Command issued a statement to say that it is “aware of the ballistic missile launch” and that it remains in close contact with “allies and partners.”
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“While we have assessed that this event does not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel or territory, or to our allies, the missile launch highlights the destabilizing impact of the DPRK’s illicit weapons program,” the statement added.
Department of Defense press secretary John Kirby said officials were not yet ready to say whether this test was of a hypersonic nature.
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A senior U.S. U.N. official told reporters that the U.S. on Wednesday proposed that the 1718 Committee, which deals with sanctions on North Korea, designate five individuals for sanctions on the heels of recent treasury and state designations. The individuals have ties to North Korea’s weapons program, having helped develop or acquire materials and technology.
The official said the U.S. is prepared to engage and support serious and sustained diplomacy, but that North Korea must “choose” diplomacy and dialogue over its “unlawful and threatening” weapons program.
Kirby echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that Pyongyang has shown “no sign of any interest in doing that.”
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“I think we’ve made clear that we’re willing to sit down and talk about these issues with North Korea,” Kirby said. “Our priority is – we already have security commitments on the peninsula, and our job here at DOD is to make sure that we are able to meet those commitments to the best of our ability.”
North Korea’s peak activity occurred in March 2020 when it conducted nine missile tests – the most ever in a month, the Heritage Foundation told Fox News.
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Kim had initiated diplomatic talks with former President Donald Trump in 2018 in an attempt to leverage his nukes for economic benefits, but negotiations fell apart in 2019 after the United States rejected his demands for sanction relief.
The Biden administration says the U.S. remains deeply involved with allies South Korea and Japan on appropriate responses to the weapons tests.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.