North Korea nuclear program
North Korea nuclear program iStock

The United States on Sunday urged North Korea to resume direct talks with no preconditions while expressing concerns over Pyongyang’s escalating missile tests.

A senior US official quoted by Reuters said North Korea’s recent tests could be precursors to resumed tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The senior official of the Biden administration was asked in a briefing for journalists whether Washington shared the concern that Pyongyang might resume ICBM and nuclear testing.

"Of course, we're concerned," he replied, according to Reuters. "It's not just what they did yesterday, it's the fact that this is coming on the heels of quite a significant number of tests in this month. And that follows on tests at the end of the year going back to September, of a variety of systems."

"We obviously don't want to see further testing and we've called upon to DPRK to refrain from further tests," he said, referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name.

The comments followed North Korea’s test of a Hwasong-12 mid-range ballistic missile. This marked the first time Pyongyang has tested a weapon that powerful since 2017 and was North Korea’s seventh missile test in recent weeks.

The US official said the latest North Korean test was part of an "increasingly destabilizing" pattern and in violation of UN Security Council resolutions and therefore international law.

"It requires a response," he said. "You will see us taking some steps that are designed to show our commitment to our allies ... and at the same time we reiterate our call for diplomacy. We stand ready and we are very serious about trying to have discussions that address concerns on both sides."

Pyongyang restarted its missile tests after denuclearization talks with the United States came to a halt.

Former US President Donald Trump tried to reach an agreement with North Korea while in office. Kim and Trump met in Hanoi in 2019 for a summit that left nuclear talks at a standstill.

The pair had met three times since June 2018 but made little progress towards denuclearization.

The Biden administration reached out to North Korea shortly after taking office, but the country did not respond to those overtures.

In Biden’s first policy speech to Congress, he said nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran posed threats that would be addressed through “diplomacy and stern deterrence”.

Responding to that speech, North Korea dismissed the idea of talks with Washington, saying Biden’s speech was “intolerable” and “a big blunder."