The United States has assessed that North Korea tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile system in two of its recent launches, which US officials say is a “serious escalation” by Pyongyang.
The two ballistic missile tests were conducted on February 26 and March 4. They were not intended to demonstrate ICBM range or capability, but were “likely to evaluate this new system before conducting a test at full range in the future, potentially disguised as a space launch, ”Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement on Thursday.
The new system, US officials have noted, was first unveiled during the Korean Workers Party parade in October 2020 and again at a defense exhibition in October 2021.
“The United States strongly condemns these launches, which are a brazen violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions, needlessly raising tensions and risk destabilizing the security situation in the region,” Kirby said.
Kirby also underscored that “the United States is revealing this information publicly and sharing it with other allies and partners because we believe that the international community must speak in a united voice to oppose the further development and proliferation of such weapons by the DPRK.”
On a call with reporters earlier Thursday, a US official said the assessment on the missile system was made in coordination with South Korea and Japan, and the US has shared details with other allies and partners, including the United Nations. They also said President Joe Biden remains open to meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The US Indo-Pacific Command announced Wednesday that the US is intensifying “intelligence, readiness and surveillance collection activities” related to North Korea following the recent missile launches.
The move is a signal from the Biden administration that it needs to strengthen its military posture to ensure the US and allies in the region like South Korea and Japan are protected against North Korea’s missile tests.
The command said they have “ordered intensified Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance collection activities in the Yellow Sea, as well as enhanced readiness among our ballistic missile defense forces in the region.”
Pressed by CNN, the US official on Thursday declined to elaborate on those “enhanced readiness” measures.
On Friday, the Department of Treasury is expected to announce “new actions to help prevent the DPRK from accessing foreign items and technology that enable it to advance prohibited weapons programs,” the official said, adding that “there will be a range of further actions in the coming days. ”
Though the Biden administration has publicly condemned the tests, they have not made any public changes to force readiness or posture in the region until now. The US has acknowledged that the tests have occurred in past instances, but, as recently as February, the US said the tests were not a threat.
This story has been updated with additional information.