“While we take these launchings seriously, we monitor them, we try to understand what they’re doing and why,” Esper told reporters traveling with him to Japan, noting, “We also need to be careful not to overreact and not to get ourselves in a situation where diplomacy is closed off”, The Hill reported.
North Korea earlier Tuesday fired another round of projectiles, the fourth such launch in less than two weeks. Esper confirmed the missile launches and added the Pentagon tracked them as short-range ballistic missiles.
South Korean officials said the missiles were fired from South Hwanghae Province and flew cross-country into the sea. They added that the launches came in response to joint military exercises between Washington and Seoul, which began on August 3 and will last roughly two weeks.
Esper — who is traveling to Japan and South Korea this week as part of his first international trip since sworn in as Pentagon chief on July 23 –- added that he would discuss the missile launches with his counterparts in both nations.
President Donald Trump in recent days has dismissed the latest North Korean missile tests as “standard” and not in violation of an earlier denuclearization agreement. North Korea, meanwhile, maintains that joint US-South Korean military exercises violate agreements made between Trump and leader Kim Jong-un.
The military exercises, known as Dong Maeng, are a scaled-back version of the annual drill previously called Ulchi Freedom Guardian, though North Korea has still called them “hostile”. Asked on Tuesday whether there are plans to change future military exercises with Seoul, Esper replied, “Not at this point”.
“We’ve made some adjustments after the presidents’ meeting last year and we’re still abiding by those and, again, in order to open the door for diplomacy, but at the same time we need to maintain our readiness and making sure that we’re prepared,” he stated.