north korea missile.
(photo credit: AP)
The US and its allies sought to punish North Korea's defiant launch of a rocket that apparently fizzled into the Pacific, holding an emergency UN meeting to respond to an act that some believe was a long-range missile test.
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 liftoff, Japan requested the emergency Security Council session in New York.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak told a nationwide radio broadcast Monday that "North Korea's reckless act of threatening regional and global security cannot have any justification." South Korea's National Assembly adopted a resolution condemning the rocket launch as a "serious provocation."
US and South Korean officials claim the entire rocket, including whatever payload it carried, ended up in the ocean after Sunday'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," Obama said in Prague. "It creates instability in their region, around the world. This provocation underscores the need for action, not just this afternoon in the UN Security Council, but in our determination to prevent the spread of these weapons."
Council members met for three hours Sunday, 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 destabilizing 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.
Mexican Ambassador Claude Heller said the council would reconvene Monday.
In Tokyo, Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone said Japan was pushing hard for a resolution and lobbying "respective nations" by telephone.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan told lawmakers in Seoul that "all countries acknowledge" the launch violates Security Council Resolution 1718, passed after North Korea's 2006 nuclear test. "I think discussions will move forward around that."
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.
"Obviously today's action by North Korea constitutes a clear violation," said Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations. "My government has called this a provocative act, and we have been in consultation today with our allies in the region and other partners on the Security Council ... to work toward agreement on a strong collective action."
Pyongyang's showed increased savvy this time in notifying the international community the launch was coming and what route the rocket would take may make punishment more complicated.
Russia said Pyongyang informed Moscow of the launch ahead of time. Pyongyang also gave the US and China more specific notice, South Korea's main spy agency reportedly told lawmakers, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency. The National Intelligence Service could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.
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 Korean leader Kim Jong Il is reportedly a big film buff, and his strategy appears to have borrowed heavily from the 1959 movie "The Mouse That Roared," about a fictional poor country that declares war on the US expecting to lose and get aid like the Marshall Plan that Washington used to help rebuild its World War II foes.
Kim himself was on hand to observe the launch, Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency reported Monday, saying Kim expressed "great satisfaction" that North Korea's technicians "successfully launched the satellite with their own wisdom and technology."
North Korea's ambassador to the UN, Shin Son Ho, told reporters in New York: "We are happy. Very, very successful. You should congratulate" us, Yonhap quoted the South Korean broadcaster MBC as reporting.
However, US and South Korean intelligence officials have confirmed the rocket's second stage landed in waters about 1,984 miles (3,200 kilometers) from the northeastern North Korean launch site, the mass-circulation Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported Monday.
That's double the distance an earlier version of the rocket managed in 1998 and far better than a 2006 launch of a long-range missile that fizzled just 42 seconds after liftoff.
Five nations - China, Russia, South Korea, Japan and US - have been working for years to get Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program in exchange for aid and other concessions. Those talks have been stalled since last year.
North Korea, one of the world's poorest countries, is in desperate need of outside help, particularly with the help that flowed in unconditionally from neighboring South Korea for a decade drying up since Lee took office in Seoul in 2008.
Pyongyang routinely uses its nuclear weapons program as its trump card, promising to abandon its atomic ambitions in exchange for aid and then exercising the nuclear threat when it doesn't get its way. The North also has reportedly been selling missile parts and technology to whoever has the cash to pay for it.
Kim wants food for his famished people, fuel and - perhaps most importantly - direct talks and relations with Washington.
Iran, which also has a contentious relationship with the international community over its nuclear program and is believed to have cooperated extensively with North Korea on missile technology, defended the launch.
"North Korea, like any other country, has the right to enter space," Iran's state TV said in a commentary, adding that the "pressure on North Korea to give up its indisputable right" was "unfair and dishonest."