North Korea fired a long-range rocket Wednesday in its second launch under its new leader Kim Jong Un, South Korean officials said, defying warnings from the UN and Washington only days before South Korean presidential elections.
North Korea declared the launch of a rocket and satellite a success and state television held a special broadcast about the launch. Close US allies South Korea and Japan confirmed the liftoff but were still assessing whether the launch succeeded.
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The White House condemned the rocket launch as a "highly provocative act" in direct violation of UN resolutions and vowed to work with international partners to seek "appropriate action" against Pyongyang.
"The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and fully committed to the security of our allies in the region," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said, pledging that Washington would increase close cooperation with its friends in the region.
North Korea ballistic missile (Photo: EPA)
"In the hours and days ahead, the United States will work with its six-party partners, the United Nations Security Council and other UN member states to pursue appropriate action," Vietor said. "The international community must work in a concerted fashion to send North Korea a clear message that its violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions have consequences."
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also strongly condemned the act and expressed concern that it could negatively impact prospects for peace and security in the region.
"The Secretary-General deplores the rocket launch announced by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea)," Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky said in a statement.
Kim Jong-un with military chiefs (Photo: AP)
"It is a clear violation of Security Council resolution 1874, in which the Council demanded that the DPRK not conduct any launch using ballistic missile technology," the statement said.
China also expressed dissatisfaction. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters: "We express regret at (North Korea's) launch in spite of the extensive concerns of the international community."
Hong says China "believes UN Security Council reaction should be prudent and moderate and conducive to maintaining stability and avoiding escalation of the situation."
The Russian Defense Ministry said that it the launch along a southern trajectory from the North Korean peninsula, the Interfax-AVN military news agency said, citing a source.
"Early warning missile systems monitored the North Korean rocket. Its flight took a southern course from the North Korean peninsula. It posed no threat to Russia," Interfax-AVN quoted an unnamed Defence Ministry source as saying.
On Saturday, North Korea had widened the dates during which it might conduct the launch of its Unha-3 rocket, citing a technical problem. Washington says the launch is a cover for testing technology for missiles that could be used to strike the United States. The previous four attempts all failed.
"It was a surprise in terms of the timing," said Bruce Bennett, senior defense analyst with the RAND Corp. think tank. "They had talked about postponing for a week. To recover so quickly from technical problems suggests they have gotten good at putting together a missile."
Facility from which rocket was launched (Photo: Google Earth, Geo Eye)
North Korea has also conducted two nuclear tests since 2006, deepening international concern over its capabilities, although it is not believed to have mastered how to mount a nuclear warhead on a missile.
David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists said initial reports that debris from the rocket landed near the Philippines 14 minutes after launch suggested that the first two stages of the three-stage Unha-3 rocket may have worked.
The last launch of the Unha-3 in April failed about two minutes after takeoff but still drew UN Security Council condemnation and tightening of sanctions against North Korea.
The US, Japan and South Korea last week vowed to seek further Security Council action if the North conducted a launch. It remains to be seen if Russia and China, the North's main ally, will agree to further sanctions. The Security Council will hold closed-door consultations on the North Korea launch on Wednesday morning, according to the UN Mission for Morocco, which holds the rotating council presidency.
AP and Reuters contributed to this report
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