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Pyongyang launches long-range rocket

U.S. says North’s payload failed to enter orbit, while the North claims a success  PLAY AUDIO

Apr 06,2009

Despite international calls against the move, North Korea yesterday launched a long-range rocket.

But where it went is in dispute.

North Korea argued the rocket successfully put a satellite into orbit, but the U.S. military said the “missile” payload dropped into the Pacific Ocean. South Korea said the North appeared to have tried to launch a satellite but that it needed more time to determine the payload’s nature.

The launch promptly drew strong criticism from South Korea and other nations. At Japan’s request, the United Nations Security Council was scheduled to have an emergency meeting behind closed doors at 4 a.m. this morning, Korean time, to discuss the launch.

The North had announced in March that it would launch a satellite “for peaceful purposes” between April 4 and 8. North Korea said that its communications satellite, Kwangmyongsong-2, successfully entered orbit. But the U.S. and the South’s military disputed the claim. In a statement, the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command said, “Stage one of the missile fell into the Sea of Japan [East Sea]. The remaining stages along with the payload itself landed in the Pacific Ocean. No object entered orbit.”

Also, Lee Sang-hee, South Korea’s defense minister, told a parliamentary hearing that he estimated all stages of the rocket had fallen into water and “we believe no object entered orbit.”

The North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency reported that the launch took place at 11:20 a.m. from its base in Musudan-ri, northeast of the peninsula, and that the satellite entered orbit at 11:29 a.m. South Korea said earlier that the launch occurred at 11:30 a.m. The South Korean government was trying to determine the cause of the time difference.

Earlier yesterday, the KCNA carried a newspaper commentary saying its satellite launch “poses no problem” and that the “satellite launch for peaceful purposes has been supported by political parties and organizations in different countries.”

According to the Japanese Defense Ministry, the first booster of the rocket fell into the East Sea, about 280 kilometers (174 miles) west of Akita Prefecture in northeast Japan. The second booster dropped into the Pacific Ocean about 1,270 kilometers northeast of Japan. The Defense Ministry added the launched object may have traveled beyond the 2,100-kilometer eastern limit of its radar system.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said there were no reports of any debris falling on Japan after the rocket passed over its territory. The Defense Ministry added that Japan didn’t try to intercept the rocket, which it said flew eastward and passed over the northern part of the country before heading on.

Leading up to the launch, Japan had threatened to shoot down a rocket or any debris that would fall toward its territory. North Korea had warned that any attempt to do so would lead to war.

South Korea, the United States and Japan were united in criticizing the rocket launch, while China and Russia both urged restraint.

The Blue House condemned the launch as “reckless behavior” that presented “grave threats” to global and regional security.

“We’re disappointed in the North’s reckless behavior,” said Blue House spokesman Lee Dong-kwan. “We will respond to this North Korean provocation in a firm and resolute manner.”

South Korea’s Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said the North Korean launch is “a clear violation” of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718, which bans the North from ballistic missile-related activities.

“Regardless of North Korea’s argument to the contrary, its launch is a provocative act that threatens the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia,” Yu said. “This sort of action doesn’t help further the six-party [denuclearization] talks.”

The South Korean military was ordered on alert yesterday and Kim Jong-bae, army brigadier general, said South Korea will consider bolstering its joint missile capabilities and vigilance with U.S. forces.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement condemning North Korea’s action as “provocative” and “a threat to the northeast Asian region and to international peace and security.”

“The launch today ... was a clear violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718, which expressly prohibits North Korea from conducting ballistic missile-related activities of any kind,” Obama’s statement read. “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.

“I urge North Korea to abide fully by the resolutions of the UN Security Council and to refrain from further provocative actions,” the statement added.

Meanwhile, U.S. State Department spokesman Fred Lash said the United States would “take appropriate steps to let North Korea know that it can’t threaten the safety and security of other countries with impunity and acts like these.”

Japan also protested the rocket launch. Prime Minister Taro Aso noted that North Korea ignored repeated warnings from the international community and said the launch was “an extremely provocative act and one that Japan cannot let go unchallenged.”

Yutaka Arima, Japan’s spokesman for its UN mission, requested an emergency session of the Security Council “within minutes” of the launch. Mexico, the council president this month, promptly approved the request.

Japan is also expected to strengthen its bilateral sanctions against North Korea. Kawamura, the chief cabinet secretary, said the sanctions, which have been extended every six months since 2006, could be extended by one year after they expire on April 13.

On the other hand, China urged restraint in the aftermath of the launch. China’s Foreign Ministry said, “We hope relevant parties will remain calm and restrained, handle the situation properly, and together maintain peace and stability in the region.” China made no mention of the launched object, saying only that North Korea had all along announced it would put a communications satellite into orbit.

Russia echoed the Chinese sentiment yesterday. “We are examining whether this is a violation of the corresponding United Nations Security Council resolutions,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman told Russia’s RIA news agency. “We call on all sides to refrain from actions that could lead to escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula.”



By Yoo Jee-ho [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]



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