Seoul, South Korea – North Korea responded on Saturday to President Joe Biden’s criticism of its ballistic missile tests, calling his comments provocative and usurpating North Korea’s right to self-defense and vowing to continually expand its “most complete and overwhelming military power.”
The statement issued by senior official Ri Pyong Chol came after North Korea fired two short-range missiles off its east coast on Thursday in the first ballistic launches since Biden took office.
Experts say that flight data released by the South Korean military and North Korea’s own description of the tests indicated that North Korea tested a new solid-fuel weapon that is designed to evade missile defense systems and it has potential nuclear capacity.
The launches showed how the North continues to expand its military capabilities as nuclear negotiations with the United States remain stalled. They also underscored the growing threat such short-range weapons pose to the allies of the United States, South Korea, and Japan, which house a total of 80,000 US troops as the core of the US military presence in the region.
Biden was held in check when he admonished North Korea for the launches, which were in violation of the UN sanctions against North Korea.
“We are consulting with our allies and partners,” Biden said at the first press conference of his presidency on Thursday. “And there will be answers if they decide to escalate. We will respond accordingly. But I am also prepared for some form of diplomacy, but it has to be conditional on the end result of denuclearization.”
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In comments made by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency, Ri said North Korea expresses “deep apprehension” at Biden’s comments that “openly reveal its deep hostility towards the DPRK.” DPRK refers to North Korea’s official name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Ri said it was “gangster logic” for the United States to criticize North Korea’s tactical weapons tests when the Americans are freely testing ICBMs and could send their strategic military assets to the region around the Korean Peninsula anywhere. moment.
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He said the North has no choice but to build “invincible physical power” to defend itself because the United States and South Korea “constantly pose military threats” and continue their combined military exercises, which the North claims are an invasion test.
“I think the new US administration obviously took its first wrong step,” Ri said.
“If the United States continues with its thoughtless comments without thinking about the consequences, it may be faced with something that is not good.”
Ri, secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee and vice chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission, is a former air force commander who has been seen as a key figure in the development of the North’s missile program.
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Thursday’s launches followed a statement by North Korean leader Kim’s powerful sister last week, who rebuked the latest military exercises between the United States and South Korea that ended earlier this month and warned Washington to “refrain from causing a stench “if you want to” sleep in peace “. for the next four years.
So far, the North has ignored the Biden administration’s efforts to get closer, saying it will not engage in meaningful talks as long as Washington persists with “hostile” policies.
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While Pyongyang has a history of testing new US administrations with weapons demonstrations intended to force Washington back into negotiations, Ri said the North Koreans “are in no way developing weapons to get someone’s attention or influence their policy.” .
It’s unclear how the Biden administration will respond before completing its North Korea policy review in the coming weeks.
“For Kim Jong Un’s missile man Ri Pyong Chol, labeling Biden’s press conference a provocation is essentially a threat that North Korea will respond to the US policy review with more evidence,” said Leif-Eric Easley, professor of international studies at Ewha Women’s University in Seoul.
“Pyongyang is implementing a premeditated strategy to advance military capabilities and increase tensions. Ri Pyong Chol has larger tests in the works and is trying to maximize the political impact of its investment in missile development.”
The United States has reduced its exercises with South Korea and stopped sending nuclear-capable bombers and aircraft carriers since President Donald Trump’s first summit with Kim in 2018, where they issued vague statements on a nuclear-weapon-free Korean peninsula without describing when and as I would do it. occur.
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But the talks stalled after the second meeting between Kim and Trump in February 2019 collapsed over disagreements as they exchanged relief from crippling U.S. sanctions for North Korea’s disarmament measures.
Some experts say the allies should restore the normal scale and scope of their exercises to develop a response to the growing threat from North Korea’s short-range weapons, which it continued to test even as it suspended ICBM and nuclear ballistic missile tests. .