North Korea launched a long-range rocket yesterday, defying months of pressure from the US and its allies over what they said was an illegal missile test and jangling nerves across the region.
US President Barack Obama called for a strong international response, with the UN Security Council to hold an emergency meeting later yesterday, while South Korea denounced it as a “reckless” threat to world security.
However, Japan said the booster rockets fell harmlessly into the water, while the US and Seoul said the launch had failed to get its payload into orbit.
North Korea, which for weeks insisted on its right to the peaceful use of space, said it had put a communications satellite into orbit that was broadcasting “immortal revolutionary songs” and anthems praising North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
“The launch vehicle and satellite, developed by our own technology, is a proud fruit of our struggle to bring the nation’s space technology to a higher level,” the state-controlled Korean Central News Agency news agency said hours after the launch.
KCNA said the three-stage rocket was launched at 11:20am, 10 minutes earlier than the time given by South Korea.
“Nine minutes and two seconds later, it successfully put Kwangmyongsung 2 into orbit,” it said.
“Currently, the satellite is beaming immortal revolutionary songs such as the Song for General Kim Il-sung and the Song for General Kim Jong-il as well as measurement data to the earth at a wavelength of 470 megahertz,” it said, adding that the satellite was also relaying telecommunications on a UHF channel.
But the US North American Aerospace Defense Command and the US Northern Command denied the claim.
“Stage one of the missile fell into the Sea of Japan,” also known as the East Sea, they said. “The remaining stages along with the payload itself landed in the Pacific Ocean. No object entered orbit.”
South Korean Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee also said the North had failed, saying “all three stages of the rocket fell into the sea.”
Ultimately what concerned the US and its allies was less the payload than the rocket carrying it, which Obama said was a Taepodong-2 missile, which could in theory reach US soil in Alaska or Hawaii.
The US president appealed to the world to send Pyongyang a strong response to the launch.
“This action demands a response from the international community, including from the United Nations Security Council to demonstrate that its resolution cannot be defied with impunity,” Obama said.
“Rules must be binding, violations must be punished, words must mean something,” he said in Prague, the Czech Republic.
Taiwan yesterday expressed concern about the launch and called for a peaceful solution on the Korean Peninsula.
“The Republic of China, as a member of Northeast Asia, is very concerned about regional security. We will continue to closely monitor developments,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Henry Chen (陳銘政) said.
“Conflicts on the Korean Peninsula should be solved through peaceful means to avoid affecting regional stability,” Chen said.
The North tested the Taepodong-2, which has an estimated range of 6,700km, and an atomic bomb in 2006, while in the midst of six-nation disarmament talks.
The Security Council then passed Resolution 1718, which imposed sanctions and warned against further nuclear or missile tests.