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US takes N. Korea's 'improving' missile programs seriously: Pentagon

US Department of Defense press secretary John Kirby is seen answering questions in a press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington on Tuesday in this image captured from the website of the defense department. (US Department of Defense)
US Department of Defense press secretary John Kirby is seen answering questions in a press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington on Tuesday in this image captured from the website of the defense department. (US Department of Defense)
The United States takes very seriously the threat posed by North Korea's "improving" missile programs, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said Tuesday.

He, however, said the US is still assessing the nature North Korea's recent missile launches, apparently to learn their exact capabilities.

"We will continue to take this threat and this improving program of Pyongyang's very, very seriously," he told a press briefing when asked about North's recent missile launches.

North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles on Monday (Seoul time), marking its fourth missile launch since the start of the new year.

Citing photos of the launch released by North Korea, Seoul officials have said the missiles fired Monday appeared to be the KN-24, which are said to be a North Korean version of the US' Army Tactical Missile System or ATACMS that fly a complicated trajectory, making them hard to intercept.

"We've assessed them as ballistic missiles, and we're still running the traps on that. So I don't have more detail on that," Kirby said when asked about the nature of the missiles involved in the latest North Korean launch.

North Korea fired what it claims to be a newly developed hypersonic missile on Jan. 5 and Jan. 11 before launching two short-range ballistic missiles on Friday.

Kirby noted the US has clearly and repeatedly called the North Korean missile launches a threat to US allies and partners in the region.

"We're not devaluing anything. Not at all," he said when asked if the US was downplaying the threat posed by the North Korean missile launches since they did not pose immediate threat to the US homeland.

"We have, as an administration, condemned these missile launches and called them out for what they are, clearly violations of various UN Security Council resolutions and dangerous to the region, certainly dangerous to our allies and partners, and we're taking that very seriously. There's no devaluing of any," he added. (Yonhap)

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