Asked about the launches at his Thursday news conference, Biden told reporters: “We’re consulting with our allies and partners and there will be responses if they choose to escalate. We will respond accordingly.”
The President also said that he agreed with then-President Barack Obama, who warned in 2016 while leaving office that North Korea is the biggest foreign policy threat and issue, answering simply: “Yes.”
Biden added that he’s also “prepared for some form of diplomacy, but it has to be conditioned upon the end result of denuclearization.”
“So that’s what we’re doing right now, consulting with our allies.”
The President’s comments come as the administration is putting the final touches on its North Korea policy review, which has been ongoing for months and could be unveiled as soon as next week.
On Wednesday, North Korea launched two ballistic missiles. South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said in a statement that two short-range missiles had been fired from the Hamju area of South Hamgyong province toward the sea, off North Korea’s east coast, at 7:06 a.m. and 7:25 a.m. Thursday local time.
The projectiles flew about 450 kilometers (280 miles), reaching an altitude of 60 kilometers (37 miles), and are believed to have been launched from the ground, the statement said.
The exact type of the missiles was unclear, a senior US official told CNN earlier, citing an intelligence briefing.
North Korea also had previously launched two projectiles last weekend, according to three US officials, carrying out its first weapons test since Biden took office in a move that senior administration officials downplayed as falling “on the low end of the spectrum” of provocative actions the regime could carry out.
Biden had previously weighed in on the weekend strikes, telling reporters Tuesday evening that he did not view last weekend’s launch as a real provocation.
The Defense Department views it as “business as usual. There’s no new wrinkle in what they did,” Biden said, laughing when asked if the launch affects diplomacy at all.
Officials say they don’t plan to respond to every one of North Korea’s tests — “We don’t believe it’s in our best interest to hype these things,” one official said — although the ballistic tests Wednesday do set a new bar.
Administration officials also say there are no plans to pull back on the joint military exercises with South Korea, previously canceled by then-President Donald Trump, that are currently underway. They say that’s antithetical to the US role in the region.
As they have been conducting this North Korea policy review, officials have engaged in heavy consultation across the government and in Asia, as well as high-level consultations with former Trump administration officials. The outcome is likely to put a premium on multilateral work and will not rule out direct engagement with North Korea, even though that seems like a nonstarter for right now.
National security advisers from South Korea and Japan are coming to Washington next week to meet with national security adviser Jake Sullivan, and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is expected at the White House in the coming weeks.