White House - Washington strongly condemned the attempted launch of North Korea's first military spy satellite, a device that Pyongyang says it needs to monitor joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea.
'With each and every one of these launches, whether it fails or succeeds, Kim Jong Un and his scientists and engineers - they learn and they improve and they adapt,' John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, said in a Wednesday briefing to reporters.
A statement published in North Korean state media said that during its Tuesday launch, the rocket lost thrust following the separation of its first and second stages. Pyongyang said it will attempt a second launch as soon as possible.
State-run media said the satellite is intended for surveillance of the joint exercises, citing a need to monitor the U.S. and its allies 'in real time.'
However, the White House maintains that the failed launch involved technologies directly related to Pyongyang's intercontinental ballistic missile program, which is banned by United Nations resolutions. Observers also say that the surveillance technology claimed by Pyongyang could potentially identify targets in the event of a war.
The Kim regime likely sees itself in a space race with its southern neighbor, given the demonstrated ability of South Korea's indigenous Nuri rocket to deliver satellites into orbit, said Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
'Whether or not North Korea's current satellite mission is a success, Pyongyang can be expected to issue political propaganda about its space capabilities, as well as diplomatic rhetoric aimed at driving a wedge between Seoul and Tokyo,' Easley told VOA.
North Korean officials have accused Seoul and Washington of raising tensions with their scaled-up, joint-military live fire exercises and a multinational naval drill that includes Japan.
Earlier this month, on the sidelines of the Group of Seven advanced democracies' summit in Hiroshima, Japan, U.S. President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol pledged 'new coordination in the face of the DPRK's illicit nuclear and missile threats,' including plans to share real-time data on Pyongyang's missile launches.
U.S. President Joe Biden, left, talks with Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, right, ahead of a trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, May 21, 2023.
The trilateral cooperation pledge followed the so-called Washington Declaration between the U.S. and South Korea, agreed to in April as Biden hosted Yoon in a state visit. The deal allows for a more muscular U.S. presence in the region and grants Seoul a greater decision-making role in U.S. contingency planning in the event of a North Korean nuclear attack.
Even before the U.S. formally expanded and strengthened its extended deterrence strategy - a term also known as the American nuclear umbrella - Washington and Seoul had significantly stepped up the frequency and scope of their joint military exercises since August 2022. The drills were postponed under U.S. President Donald Trump following his meeting with Kim in Singapore in 2018.
In this photo provided by South Korean Defense Ministry, U.S. Air Force B-1B bombers, F-22 fighter jets, and South Korean Air Force F-35 fighter jets, fly during a joint air drill in South Korea, Jan. 1, 2023.
The last working-level nuclear talks between U.S. and North Korean officials broke off in October 2019.
U.S. officials say they're open to restart negotiations.
'We've been consistent since the beginning of this administration that we're willing to sit down with the DPRK without preconditions to talk about the denuclearization of the peninsula,' Kirby said Wednesday.
Frank Aum, a senior expert on Northeast Asia at the U.S. Institute of Peace, said the administration needs to take more aggressive steps toward engaging Pyongyang, including by offering unilateral conciliatory gestures that may bring them to the negotiation table.
'If the focus is just on enhancing our own deterrence capabilities, then we're not going to get anywhere,' Aum told VOA. 'Because North Korea can misperceive that as ... not just being about deterrence but being offensive, about being geared towards undermining or taking out the North Korean regime.'