NORTH KOREA fired a long-range rocket yesterday, provoking international outrage and prompting the UN Security Council to call an emergency meeting.
The reclusive communist state said a satellite was launched into orbit and circled the earth transmitting revolutionary songs. The US military and South Korea said it had failed to enter orbit.
Analysts say the launch was effectively a test of a ballistic missile designed to carry a warhead potentially as far as Alaska. North Korea can use the same rocket — the Taepodong-2 — to launch satellites and test missiles.
It was the first big challenge for US President Barack Obama in dealing with North Korea, whose efforts to build a nuclear arsenal have long plagued ties with Washington.
“With this provocative act, North Korea has ignored its international obligations, rejected unequivocal calls for restraint, and further isolated itself from the community of nations,” Obama said, speaking during a European tour.
Obama remained committed to talks to “denuclearise” North Korea, the White House said.
South Korea branded the launch a “reckless” act, Japan said it was “extremely regrettable” and the European Union condemned Pyongyang’s step. NATO condemned it as “highly provocative”.
“There is only one response possible: the union of the international community must punish a regime that doesn’t respect any international rules,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy said.
China, the nearest North Korea has to a major ally, and Russia called on all sides for calm and restraint.
The UN Security Council was holding consultations on the launch last night. UN diplomats said no country was considering imposing new sanctions, but a resolution on stricter enforcement of earlier measures could be discussed.
The US, Japan and South Korea see the launch as a violation of a Security Council resolution passed in 2006 after Pyongyang’s nuclear test and other missile tests. That resolution, number 1718, demands North Korea “suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile programme”.
Both Russia and China have made clear they would block new sanctions by the Security Council.
Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi called officials in the US, Russia, Japan and South Korea to discuss the launch, the Foreign Ministry said.
“All sides ought to look at the big picture [and] avoid taking actions which may exacerbate the situation further,” a Chinese statement said.
Using similar language, Russia’s foreign minister called on the international community to demonstrate a “balanced approach and caution” during the Security Council discussions.
A US official said the launch was unsuccessful, but that did not change the response the US was seeking at the United Nations.
Washington, Seoul and Tokyo had said before the launch that in reality it would be a test of the Taepodong-2, which is designed to fly an estimated 6,700km.
The US Northern Command said stage one of the missile fell into the Sea of Japan and the remaining stages along with the payload landed in the Pacific.
Analysts said the rocket launch may bolster North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s authority after a suspected stroke last August raised doubts about his grip on power.
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