The test launches took place ahead of a Tokyo trip for President Biden’s nuclear envoy, Sung Kim, who is scheduled to meet with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts this week.
Last month, Kim met with his South Korean counterpart in Seoul, where he said he was ready to meet with North Koreans for talks “anywhere, at any time.”
North Korea has so far not responded to outreach efforts by the Biden administration, which did not signal an intention to offer the sanctions waiver that Pyongyang has been demanding.
The state media report said North Korea developed the cruise missiles over two years, fulfilling key defense goals set by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — a claim that hinted at the possible nuclear capability of the missiles. KCNA described the missiles as a “strategic weapon of great significance.”
KCNA said the test-fired missiles hit the targets 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) away, which puts most of Japan in the missiles’ range.
“The North Koreans have a habit of using the word ‘strategic’ as a euphemism for nuclear-capable,” said Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said during a news conference on Monday that reports of the missiles’ potential to reach Japan were concerning, and Japanese officials were analyzing and monitoring the situation in cooperation with South Korea and the United States.
Monday’s announcement came days after North Korea staged its first military parade since Biden took office. The parade had showcased a scaled-back display of weapons and had focused on domestic unity in face of national hardships.
North Korea, limited with poor public health capabilities, has taken stringent measures to fight the coronavirus at great cost to its economy. The country sealed its borders and suspended most of the international trade amid the pandemic due to virus concerns.
South Korea’s military said Monday that it was conducting a detailed analysis of the missiles in cooperation with the United States. It did not say whether it had detected the tests earlier.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement that U.S. officials are monitoring the reports of cruise missile launches.
“This activity highlights DPRK’s continuing focus on developing its military program and the threats that poses to its neighbors and the international community,” U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said, referring to North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The missiles flew in “pattern-8 flight orbit” for more than two hours over the North Korean land and waters, the KCNA said.
North Korea’s leader did not appear to have observed the test, but Pak Jong Chon, the country’s top military official, was in attendance, according to the KCNA.