North Korea fires off first missile test since Biden took office

Key Points
  • North Korea resumed its missile tests over the weekend, the first to occur under the Biden administration.
  • Pyongyang fired at least one missile. But officials would not elaborate on what type of missile was launched and the location of the test.
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – North Korea last weekend conducted a missile test for the first time during President Joe Biden's administration. Senior administration officials said Tuesday evening that they were monitoring the situation, but stressed that the actions represented a low-level provocation.

Pyongyang fired at least one missile, but senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity would not elaborate on what type of weapon was launched, the location of the test, nor its success rate.

At a briefing on Tuesday, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby declined to comment on the missile launch.

The missile test comes as Pyongyang ignores invitations from Washington to discuss denuclearization and as larger joint U.S. and South Korean military exercises on the peninsula resume.

"We are under no illusions about the difficulty this task presents to us. We have a long history of disappointment in diplomacy with North Korea. It's defied expectations of Republican and Democratic administrations alike," a senior administration official said.

The official also said that Washington consulted with former Trump administration officials in order to gain additional insight on North Korea.

President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, June 30, 2019.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

"This type of saber-rattling is not threatening, but rather is intended to get the attention of the Biden administration," wrote retired Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, a senior fellow at Defense Priorities, in a statement reacting to the development.

"There's an opening to negotiate for freezes and potentially rollbacks in exchange for limited sanctions relief. But unless Washington is willing to make such trade-offs and normalize relations, expect Kim to continue developing weapons and testing them," Davis added.

Harry Kazianis, senior director of Korean studies at the Center for the National Interest, described North Korea's actions as a message to the new administration.

"Pyongyang, through these new missile tests, is signaling to team Biden that its military capabilities will continue to get more potent with each passing day," Kazianis said.

Last week, a top North Korean official said Pyongyang will not respond to numerous invitations to restart nuke talks until the United States drops its "hostile policies."

"We have already declared our stand that no DPRK-U.S. contact and dialogue of any kind can be possible unless the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy towards the DPRK," said First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Son Hui, according to a statement released by state-run Korean Central News Agency on Thursday.

Also last week, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un issued a warning to the United States as Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin embarked on their first overseas trip under Biden leadership. The two visited South Korea and Japan in order to shore up alliances and reiterate U.S. commitments and interests in the region.

"We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off [gun] powder smell in our land," Kim Yo Jong said in a statement referencing joint U.S. and South Korean military exercises in the region.

"If it [the U.S.] wants to sleep in peace for the coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step," she added, according to an English translation.

Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un.
Jorge Silva | Reuters

Later on Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the Biden administration did not have "a direct comment or response."

Our objective is always going to be focused on diplomacy and denuclearization in North Korea," she said. "Our focus right now is on working with and coordinating with our partners and allies on a range of issues and including security in the region."

Under Kim Jong Un, the reclusive state has conducted its most powerful nuclear test, launched its first-ever intercontinental ballistic missile and threatened to send missiles into the waters near the U.S. territory of Guam.

Since 2011, Kim has launched more than 100 missiles and conducted four nuclear weapons tests, which is more than what his father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather, Kim Il Sung, launched over a period of 27 years.

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CNBC's Kevin Breuninger contributed to this report from New York City.