North Korea conducts first weapons test of Biden presidency

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Sara Cook
·3 min read
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North Korea tested a "short-range system" over the weekend, its first known weapons test during the Biden presidency, senior administration officials confirmed on Tuesday. While the officials did not elaborate on the types of tests, citing classification issues, they said it was "normal" activity for North Korea and the actions were not covered under United Nations Security Council resolutions that put limits on the country's nuclear program.

The activity over the weekend does not close the door for diplomatic engagement with North Korea, the officials said. They stressed that the U.S. was on its "forward foot in terms of wanting to clearly signal that we are prepared for continuing engagement in Northeast Asia with key partners and, indeed, with North Korea." 

Still, a senior administration official said there had been "no active dialogue" with North Korea despite "multiple attempts" by the U.S. to engage with them over the past year during both the Biden and the Trump administrations.

There has been "very little dialogue or interaction" between the U.S. and North Korea since former President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in Vietnam in 2019, the official said. That meeting was cut short and the two men failed to reach any agreement on how to keep pushing toward Mr. Trump's stated goal of ridding North Korea of its nuclear weapons.

A few months after the Vietnam talks broke down, Mr. Trump tweeted "if Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!" ahead of his trip to Osaka, Japan, for the G20 summit.

A few days later, Mr. Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to set foot on North Korean soil when he walked over into the Demilitarized Zone that divides the Korean peninsula. At the DMZ, Mr. Trump hailed his "great relationship" with the North Korean strongman leader and invited Kim to the White House to continue talks.

The Biden administration has been having extensive consultations with former Trump administration officials "at the highest levels" from the White House and State Department on North Korea, the senior official said. They described the talks as "polite, respectful and very helpful for us."

National security adviser Jake Sullivan will be meeting later this week with national security advisers from Japan and South Korea. The senior officials said the administration is in the "final stages" of a North Korea policy review.

"We have no illusions about the difficulty this task presents to us," one senior official said, citing continuing diplomatic tensions between Japan and North Korea and U.S.-China relations "heading into a complex period." 

Last week, North Korea cut off diplomatic ties with Malaysia and its diplomats left the country over a disagreement over the extradition of a North Korean criminal suspect to the United States.

Before President Biden took office in January, North Korea held a parade displaying ballistic missiles capable of being launched from submarines currently under development and other military hardware. During the eight-day Workers' Party congress in January, Kim also revealed plans to salvage the nation's economy as it suffered heavily under U.S.-led sanctions, pandemic-related border closures and natural disasters that wiped out crops. 

Kim sent a card to North Koreans on New Years Day thanking the public for their trust and support "in the difficult times."

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