Obama urges action over North Korean rocket launch

The US and its allies were seeking punishment today for North Korea’s defiant launch of a rocket that apparently fizzled into the Pacific.

The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting yesterday in response to the “provocative act” that some believe was a long-range missile test. But it ended last night with no agreement on a UN response and talks will continue today.

US president Barack Obama, faced with his first global security crisis, called for an international response and condemned North Korea for threatening the peace and stability of nations “near and far”.

Minutes after lift-off, Japan requested the emergency security council session in New York.

South Korean president Lee Myung-bak expressed indignation on national radio, saying: “North Korea’s reckless act of threatening regional and global security cannot have any justification.”

US and South Korean officials claim the entire rocket, including whatever payload it carried, ended up in the ocean after yesterday’s launch, but many world leaders fear the launch indicates the capacity to fire a long-range missile.

Pyongyang claims it launched a communications satellite into orbit that is now transmitting data and patriotic songs.

“North Korea broke the rules, once again, by testing a rocket that could be used for long-range missiles,” Mr Obama said yesterday in Prague, in the Czech Republic.

“It creates instability in their region, around the world. This provocation underscores the need for action, not just in the UN Security Council, but in our determination to prevent the spread of these weapons.”

Security council members met for three hours seeking a unified response, but the meeting ended with a deadlock, breaking up for the night without issuing even a customary preliminary statement of condemnation.

Diplomats privy to the closed-door talks say China, Russia, Libya and Vietnam were concerned about further alienating and destabilising North Korea.

“We’re now in a very sensitive moment,” Chinese ambassador Zhang Yesui said after the talks. “Our position is that all countries concerned should show restraint and refrain from taking actions that might lead to increased tensions.”

The US Britain, France and Japan drafted a proposal for a resolution that could be adopted by the end of the week. It aims to toughen existing economic sanctions by “naming and shaming” individuals and entities, diplomats said.

Mexican ambassador Claude Heller, the council’s president, said the council would reconvene “as soon as possible” today.

Using a possible loophole in UN sanctions that bar the North from ballistic missile activity, Pyongyang claimed it was exercising its right to peaceful space development.

The US said nuclear-armed North Korea clearly violated the resolution, but objections from Russia and China – the North’s closest ally – will almost certainly water down any response. Both have security council veto power.

While the rogue communist state has repeatedly been belligerent – as it was when it carried out an underground nuclear blast and tested ballistic missiles in recent years – Pyongyang showed increased savvy this time that may make punishment more complicated.

Unlike previous provocations, the North notified the international community that the launch was coming and the route the rocket would take, although critics of North Korea leader Kim Jong Il claim he really was testing a ballistic missile capable of hitting US territory.

Analysts say sanctions imposed after the North’s underground nuclear test in 2006 appear to have had little effect because some countries showed no will to impose them.

North Korea’s state Korean Central News Agency reported that Kim observed the launch. He expressed “great satisfaction” that North Korea’s technicians “successfully launched the satellite with their own wisdom and technology”.

Despite its policy of “juche” or “self-reliance”, communist North Korea is one of the world’s poorest countries, has few allies and is in desperate need of outside help.

Pyongyang for years has used its nuclear weapons program as its trump card, promising to abandon its atomic ambitions in exchange for aid, then exercising the nuclear threat when it does not get its way. The North has also reportedly been selling missile parts and technology to whoever has the cash to pay for it.

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