A South Korean man uses his smartphone to take a photo of a television screen reporting news about North Korea rocket launch, Seoul Railway Station, Seoul, South Korea
North Korea successfully fired a long-range rocket on Wednesday,
defying international warnings as the regime of Kim Jong Un took a big
step forward in its quest to develop a nuclear missile.
the rocket launch will enhance the credentials of young leader Kim, who
took power after his father Kim Jong Il's death a year ago, it is also
likely to bring fresh sanctions against the country and further
complicate relations among North Korea, its neighbors, and the West.
United States, South Korea and Japan were quick to condemn the morning
launch, which they see as a test of technology needed to mount a nuclear
warhead on a missile that could one day threaten the U.S. West Coast.
Pyongyang says the launch was merely a peaceful effort to put a weather satellite into orbit.
China, North Korea's closest ally, expressed "regret" that North Korea
went ahead with the launch "in spite of the extensive concerns of
international community," said Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei.
Russia expressed "deep regret" over the launch, with its Foreign
Ministry saying Pyongyang had violated a U.N. Security Council
resolution limiting its use of ballistic technology, reports the Reuters
The White House called the launch "a highly
provocative act" that was both a threat to regional security and a
violation of U.N. resolutions.
"North Korea is only further
isolating itself by engaging in such provocative acts," U.S. National
Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said in the statement. "Devoting
scarce resources to the development of ballistic missiles and nuclear
weapons has not brought it security and acceptance by the international
community -- and never will."
The launch's timing came as
something of a surprise, after Pyongyang had indicated technical
problems might delay it. That it succeeded after several failed attempts
was an even greater surprise.
"North Korea will now turn
its attention to developing bigger rockets with heavier payloads," said
Chae Yeon-seok, a rocket expert at South Korea's state-run Korea
Aerospace Research Institute. "Its ultimate aim will be putting a
nuclear warhead on the tip."
The Unha-3 rocket lifted off
just before 10 a.m. local time, and was detected heading south by a
South Korean destroyer patrolling the Yellow Sea. Japanese officials
said the first rocket stage fell into the Yellow Sea west of the Korean
Peninsula; a second stage fell into the Philippine Sea hundreds of miles
The North American Aerospace Defense
Command, or NORAD, later confirmed that North Korea did appear to have
put an object into space. "Initial indications are that the missile
deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit," NORAD said in a
About two hours after the launch, North
Korea's state media proclaimed it a success, prompting dancing in the
streets of the capital. State media called it a "momentous event" in the
country's scientific development.
Rocket tests are seen
as crucial to advancing North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions.
Pyongyang is thought to have a handful of rudimentary nuclear bombs, but
experts believe it lacks the ability to make a warhead small enough to
mount on a missile that could threaten the United States.
success of this launch "allows the North Koreans to determine what kind
of delivery vehicle they could use for a potential nuclear warhead,"
said retired Air Force Col. Cedric Leighton, a weapons expert and
The U.N. Security Council will hold
closed-door consultations on the launch Wednesday, according to the
U.N. Mission for Morocco, which holds the rotating council presidency.
North Korea has spent decades trying to perfect a multistage, long-range rocket.
Experts say that ballistic missiles and rockets in satellite launches share similar bodies, engines and other technology.
is the fifth attempt at a long-range launch since 1998, when Pyongyang
sent a rocket hurtling over Japan. Previous launches of three-stage
rockets failed, although North Korea claims its 1998 and 2009 launches
were successful. A similar North Korean launch in April broke apart
shortly after liftoff.
David Wright, a senior scientist
at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said North Korea showed some
technical capability getting the rockets stages to work Wednesday.
"Politically, however, it will certainly have an impact on the way other countries view North Korea," Wright said.
Korea under new leader Kim has pledged to bolster its nuclear arsenal
unless Washington scraps what Pyongyang calls a hostile policy.
took power after Kim Jong Il died on Dec. 17 last year, and the launch
is seen by some as an attempt to commemorate that. It also comes less
than a week before presidential elections in South Korea and about a
month before President Obama is inaugurated for his second term.
Korean television and radio broadcast word of the launch, and there
were vehicles with loudspeakers driving around Pyongyang announcing the
news. Customers in the coffee shop at Pyongyang's Koryo Hotel broke into
applause during a special television broadcast, while elsewhere people
danced and asked each other: "Have you heard the news?"
really good news. It clearly testifies that our country has the
capability to enter space," said Jon Il Gwang, a Pyongyang resident. "I
think our country should continue launching man-made satellites in the
future in order to further advance the position of our country as a
science and technology power."
The launches Wednesday and
in April came from a site on the west coast, in the village of
Tongchang-ri, about 35 miles from the Chinese border city of Dandong,
across the Yalu River from North Korea. The site is 45 miles from the
North's main Yongbyon nuclear complex, and is said to have better roads
and facilities than previous sites and to allow a southerly flight path
meant to keep the rocket from flying over other countries.
are high between the rival Koreas. The Korean Peninsula remains
technically at war, as the 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, and
Washington stations nearly 30,000 troops in South Korea as a buttress
against any North Korean aggression. Tens of thousands more are in
This year is the centennial of the birth of
national founder Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of Kim Jong Un. According
to North Korean propaganda, 2012 is meant to put the North on a path
toward a "strong, prosperous and great nation."
launch also follows South Korea's recent cancellation, because of
technical problems, of an attempt to launch its first satellite from its
own territory. Two previous attempts by Seoul in 2009 and 2010 failed.
U.N. Security Council has imposed two rounds of sanctions on North
Korea following its nuclear tests, and a 2009 resolution orders the
North not to conduct any launch using ballistic missile technology.
council condemned the failed North Korean launch in April and ordered
seizure of assets of three North Korean state companies linked to
financing, exporting and procuring weapons and missile technology.
Korea has capable short- and medium-range missiles, but long-range
launches in 1998, 2006, 2009 and in April of this year ended in failure.
North Korea is believed to have enough weaponized plutonium for at
least half a dozen bombs, according to U.S. experts. In 2010 it revealed
a uranium enrichment program that could provide a second source of
material for nuclear weapons.
Six-nation negotiations on dismantling North Korea's nuclear program in exchange for aid fell apart in early 2009.
February deal for the United States to provide 240,000 metric tons of
food aid in exchange for a freeze in nuclear and missile activities
collapsed after the North's April launch.