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Jacob Fromer is NK News's Washington DC correspondent. He previously worked in the U.S. Senate.
North Korea’s latest round of missile tests and military exercises did not provoke or threaten the United States, the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Tuesday at the Pentagon.
Instead, said General Mark Milley, the country may have been marking a “celebration.”
Milley did not specify which celebration he meant, but the birthday of Kim Il Sung — the late founder of the DPRK and grandfather of current North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — is on Wednesday. The so-called Day of the Sun is a national holiday in the North.
Milley’s comments came just hours after South Korea’s military reported that the North had launched multiple anti-ship cruise missiles, along with other projectiles allegedly fired from fighter jets.
“I don’t think it’s particularly provocative or threatening to us, as to what happened,” he said.
“It may be tied to some celebrations that are happening inside North Korea, as opposed to any deliberate provocation against us,” he added.
In an unusual move, Pyongyang did not acknowledge the weapons tests or air force drills in its state media on Wednesday morning, but Milley described the missiles as “short-range.”
“These aren’t any particularly big missile,” he said.
South Korea’s military said earlier on Tuesday that some of the projectiles were “presumed to be short-range cruise missiles,” and reportedly flew more than 150 kilometers.
A State Department spokesperson told NK News on Tuesday that the department was “aware of media reports” and “currently assessing the situation.”
“We continue to call on North Korea to avoid provocations, abide by obligations under U.N. Security Council Resolutions, and return to sustained and substantive negotiations to do its part to achieve complete denuclearization,” the spokesperson said.
The missile launches were North Korea’s fifth of the year. The first four all came during March — the most ever within a one-month span for the DPRK.
On Sunday, the North reported on a round of air force drills which NK News found took place on Friday, while the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) also on Friday reported on mortar drills conducted in the days prior.
KCNA reported that the air force and artillery drills were overseen in person by Kim Jong Un.
The North’s various missile launches and military drills also come as the world remains consumed by the all-out battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
North Korea has repeatedly denied having any cases of the coronavirus within its borders — a claim many experts and officials have said cannot be true — and has boasted in state media of its success at maintaining a “clean land” free from the virus.
Earlier this month, the top U.S. military commander in South Korea, General Robert Abrams, said the DPRK’s coronavirus claims were “impossible.”
“I can tell you that is an impossible claim based on all of the intel that we have seen,” Abrams said on April 2.
Milley echoed that point on Tuesday.
“We don’t have as good insight into North Korea as we would other countries, but we are convinced that they are challenged as well.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
North Korea's latest round of missile tests and military exercises did not provoke or threaten the United States, the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Tuesday at the Pentagon.
Instead, said General Mark Milley, the country may have been marking a "celebration."