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According to three US officials, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) carried out a weapons test last weekend, launching two projectiles. The move was widely expected as Kim Jong Un sends a message to the Biden administration about its weight in the region.
News of the weapons test comes as North Korea has remained quiet since the weekend, refraining from touting its ability to stand up to the United States—leaving U.S. officials wondering about the intent behind the launch.
U.S. regional allies South Korea and Japan have also been similarly quiet.
The launches, first reported by the Washington Post Tuesday, mark the first known weapons test by North Korea since President Joe Biden took office and come as his administration continues to mull its options for confronting DPRK's nuclear capacity.
Lawmakers and key U.S. allies eagerly await further details about Biden's North Korea policy, which they expect will be announced publicly in the coming weeks when the administration completes a policy review.
Yet North Korea's decision to conduct a weapons test before that announcement is largely unsurprising as U.S. officials and experts have warned for weeks that the DPRK would likely conduct some sort of weapons test in the coming future.
Jeffrey Lewis, a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, told CNN Tuesday that North Korea appears to have tested a coastal defense cruise missile, which he said would be "fairly routine and, all things considered, a very mild response to the US-South Korea military drill."
North Korea fired short-range, low-flying missiles into the Yellow Sea over the weekend. - U.S. officials are calling it "normal military activity" and not a serious breach. - JCS sources are classifying the missiles as "cruise missiles."
CNN reported last week that U.S. intelligence assessed North Korea could be preparing to carry out its first weapons test since Biden was sworn-in as President and that U.S. officials were on alert as Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin traveled to Asia for meetings with their Japanese and South Korean counterparts.
Hours after the White House said last week it had not received a response to diplomatic overtures it had been making to Pyongyang, Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korea's leader, warned the Biden administration against "causing a stink at its first step."
The next day, according to a statement from the U.S. State Department, Blinken and Austin reaffirmed their commitment to the "complete denuclearization of North Korea" in Japan and to creating opportunities for further cooperation between the U.S., Japan, and South Korea.
Last Tuesday, a senior US general also issued a public warning about the "threat" posed by North Korea, telling the Senate Armed Services Committee that "the Kim Jong Un regime has achieved alarming success in its quest to demonstrate the capability to threaten the US homeland with nuclear-armed ICBMs, believing such weapons are necessary to deter US military action and ensure his regime's survival."