The launches came a day after U.S. and South Korean officials said the north fired short-range weapons over the weekend, believed to be cruise missiles into its western sea.
Negotiations on the North’s nuclear program failed after the collapse of Kim Jong Un’s second summit with former President Donald Trump in February 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korean demands for greater sanction relief in exchange for a partial handover of their nuclear capabilities.
The North has so far ignored the efforts of the Biden administration to come forward, saying it will not hold meaningful talks unless Washington abandons its “hostile” policies.
Kim’s powerful sister last week berated the United States for its final round of combined military exercises with South Korea, which ended earlier this month. Describing the exercises as an invasive rehearsal, she warned Washington “not to cause a stink” if it wants to “sleep” in peace “for the next four years.
Just a few hours after the start on Thursday, South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong was due to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Seoul to discuss North Korea and other regional issues. The South Korean presidential office said it would hold an emergency session of the National Security Council to discuss the launches.
The South Korean Ministry of Defense said the north’s short-range tests on Sunday were the first rocket shots since April 2020. President Joe Biden downplayed these starts and told reporters, “There are no new folds in what they did.”
North Korea has in the past tested new US governments with rocket launches and other provocations to push the Americans back to the negotiating table.
The north has not conducted nuclear or long-range missile tests since Trump’s first meeting with Kim in Singapore in 2018, though analysts believe they have pushed their programs in both areas.
The North has continued short- and medium-range missile testing while suspending nuclear and long-range testing, expanding its ability to hit targets in South Korea and Japan, including US bases there.
While Kim has vowed in recent speeches to strengthen his nuclear weapons program, he also tried to open up the new US administration by saying that the fate of their relations depends on Washington.
During his visit to Seoul last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken severely criticized North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and human rights situation and urged China to use its “enormous influence” to persuade the North to denuclearize.