North Korea defied the US, its allies and a series of UN resolutions by launching a rocket on Sunday that it said propelled a satellite into space but that much of the world viewed as an unsuccessful effort to prove it is edging toward the capability to shoot a nuclear warhead on a longer-range missile.
The US Northern Command issued a statement that North Korea’s Taepodong 2 missile flew over Japan, with its payload landing in the Pacific Ocean. “No object entered orbit and no debris fell on Japan,” the assessment said.
Still, the launching drew swift international condemnation and prompted the UN Security Council to convene an emergency meeting on Sunday in which the US, Japan and South Korea vowed to penalise the North. US President Barack Obama said the move threatened the security of nations “near and far”.
North Korea’s official news agency, KCNA, claimed that a Eunha-2 rocket blasted off from its Musudan-ri launching site on its east coast at 11.20 a.m. local time on Sunday and successfully placed a satellite into orbit nine minutes later. But Lee Sang-hee, the defence minister of South Korea, told a parliamentary hearing that the rocket “appears to have failed to put a satellite into orbit”. Lee said that all of the rocket’s three stages appeared to have fallen into the sea. If the launching had been successful, the third stage, which thrusts the satellite into orbit, should have remained in orbit, according to rocket experts.
Early reports from the Japanese prime minister’s office indicated that the rocket flew longer than any the North had tested before, with the first stage falling into the sea between Japan and the Korean Peninsula, and the second stage into the Pacific.
North Korea claimed that its Kwangmyongsong-2, or “Lodestar-2,” named after the propaganda nickname of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, was in an orbit anywhere from 490 to 1,426 km from the earth, circling once every 104 minutes. KCNA said the satellite was broadcasting “immortal revolutionary paeans” to Kim and his late father, President Kim Il-sung.
North Korea’s rocket launching is widely seen as a bid to win attention from the Obama administration and start a new round
of talks with its bargaining position strengthened.
“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.
South Korea vowed a “stern and resolute” response to the North’s “reckless act”. Prime Minister Taro Aso of Japan said called it “an extremely provocative act and one that Japan cannot let go unchallenged.” Britain, France and the European Union presidency all criticised North Korea for raising tensions and urged it to return to six-nation nuclear disarmament talks.
At Japan’s request, the UN Security Council approved an emergency session on Sunday. But China, North Korea’s only remaining major ally, and Russia are likely to veto or water down any new sanctions against the North. Pyongyang has said new sanctions would compel it to quit international talks on ending its nuclear weapons program.