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North Korea Launches Projectile in Possible Missile Test

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SEOUL — North Korea launched an unidentified projectile off its east coast on Thursday, South Korean defense officials said, adding to growing tensions with the new Biden administration.

South Korean authorities were analyzing the data collected from the launch to determine the type of projectile, the country’s military said in a brief statement.

The South Korean military uses the term “unidentified projectile” when it cannot immediately determine if the object launched was a ballistic missile. A ballistic missile test would mark the first major provocation to Washington under President Biden.

The projectile launch marked the North’s second test since the Biden administration took office in January. North Korea test-fired two short-range cruise missiles over the weekend, South Korean defense officials confirmed Wednesday.

The earlier test, the first to occur during the Biden administration, took place off the west coast of North Korea on Sunday, just days after the country accused the United States and South Korea of raising “a stink” on the Korean Peninsula with their annual military drills.

The weekend test did not violate United Nations resolutions, which bar North Korea from developing or testing ballistic missile technologies.

North Korea’s weapons program has been a thorny problem for the past four U.S. presidents. Each approached the country with different incentives and sanctions, but failed to persuade it to stop building nuclear warheads and the missiles to deliver them.

North Korea’s weapons program has advanced quickly. In 2017, the North fired missiles over Japan and threatened to launch an “enveloping” strike near the U.S. territory of Guam. After the country launched its first intercontinental ballistic missiles later that year, President Donald J. Trump hoped that direct talks with Mr. Kim would persuade the impoverished and isolated country to end its program.

Despite three face-to-face meetings, the leaders were unable to reach an agreement, depriving Mr. Trump of what he had hoped would be a crowning foreign policy achievement. Instead, the failed summits gave Mr. Kim more time to further develop his weapons, experts say.

Mr. Biden’s approach to North Korea is more likely to follow that of former President Barack Obama, rather than the more direct engagement of Mr. Trump.

During the first months of his presidency, Mr. Obama was also greeted by a North Korean provocation when the country detonated a nuclear bomb. Rather than negotiate, Mr. Obama opted for a policy of “strategic patience,” which meant gradually escalating sanctions.

During his Senate confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the Biden administration would “review the entire approach and policy toward North Korea, because this is a hard problem.”


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