WASHINGTON — North Korea fired at least one missile over the weekend, two U.S. officials told NBC News Tuesday.
It marks the first report of such activity since Joe Biden was sworn in as president.
Officials declined to say what type of missile was fired or where it landed. It was unclear why South Korea’s government had yet to comment on the missile launch. Officials in Seoul typically issue statements after North Korean missile or nuclear tests, and the North Korean government has been known to brag about them, as well.
Asked by reporters what he could say about the incident, Biden said, “We have learned that nothing much has changed.”
A senior administration official told reporters that the type of weapon that was fired over the weekend is not covered by United Nations resolutions. “While we take all military activity seriously,” the official said, the test falls under “the category of normal military activities” by Pyongyang.
The missile launch, which was first reported by The Washington Post, came days after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, issued a statement warning the Biden administration not to proceed with planned joint military exercises with South Korea.
“If it wants to sleep in peace for [the] coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step,” she said, according to The Associated Press.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin were in South Korea last week as part of their regional tour aimed at boosting America’s Asian alliances, and Blinken called out Pyongyang’s history of human rights abuse.
“The authoritarian regime in North Korea continues to commit systematic and widespread abuses against its own people,” Blinken said at the start of his meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong. “We must stand with people demanding their fundamental rights and freedoms and against those who repress them.”
He also called North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs “a threat to the region and to the world.”
NBC News Korean Affairs Analyst Victor Cha said it appears that North Korea is trying to test the new administration, and it was anticipated they would try to put some pressure on the administration following Blinken’s trip.
A senior administration official described the military activity as one from “a familiar menu of provocations,” adding that “what took place last weekend is falling on the low end of that spectrum.”
Responding to a reporter’s question as he returned to the White House from Ohio, the president said the Defense Department had called the missile firing “business as usual. There’s no new wrinkle in what they did.”
North Korea has performed multiple short range missile tests over the last few years that the Trump administration dismissed as not being important, despite their being a violation of United Nations resolutions.
State Department spokesman Jalina Porter, while not referring to the missile launch, said Tuesday that “the Biden administration is currently reviewing our approach when it comes to a broader North Korea policy.”
“The United States has a vital interest in deterring North Korea, defending against provocations or use of force, living within the reach of its most dangerous weapons programs involve keeping Americans safe and keeping our allies and partners in the region, safe,” Porter said.
Officials described the U.S. review of North Korean policy as being in its “final stages.”
Senior administration members had consulted Trump officials at some point in their review on what transpired over the last four years. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has invited his counterparts from Japan and South Korea to Washington next week for meetings on North Korea
U.S.-led diplomacy on North Korea’s nuclear program has been in limbo since a February 2019 summit between President Donald Trump and Kim collapsed over disputes surrounding sanctions. Kim has since threatened to enlarge his nuclear arsenal in protest of what he called U.S. hostility.
Blinken said last week that Washington had reached out to North Korea through several channels starting in mid-February, but it hadn’t received any response. He said the Biden administration was looking both at possible “additional pressure measures” and “diplomatic paths.”
At a Pentagon briefing Tuesday, press secretary John Kirby declined to comment on the missile launch.