North Korea defied international protests by launching a long-range rocket early Friday, but it appeared to fall apart and harmlessly crash into the sea shortly after blast off.
North Korea’s official news agency acknowledged that the three-stage rocket failed to enter orbit. It said scientists are looking into the cause of the failure, but provided few other details.
The U.S. Northern Command says initial indications show that the first stage of the rocket crashed into the Yellow Sea, 165 kilometers off the coast of South Korea. It said the remaining stages of the rocket also failed before falling into the water.
Japanese Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka says the rocket appears to have flown for about a minute, reaching 120 kilometers up in the air, before splitting into four pieces.
“We have received information that there was some sort of object launched. It appears to have flown for over a minute and then fallen into the ocean. There has been absolutely no effect on our territory.”
The White House promptly condemned the launch. In a statement issued shortly after the blast-off, a White House spokesman lashed out against North Korea’s “provocative” action, saying it threatens regional security and violates international law.
North Korea sent off the rocket from a launch pad in Tongchang-ri early Friday (7:39 AM local time), in defiance of United Nations resolutions and warnings from the U.S. and other nations.
Pyongyang has so far said very little about the failure of the mission, which it claims was to place a weather satellite into orbit. Washington and its allies, South Korea and Japan, said it was a cover for testing Pyongyang’s ballistic missile capabilities.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan said his government is looking to take unspecified “counter measures” against the launch, saying North Korea must take “full responsibility” for its actions.
“Our government is looking for efficient ways to respond to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, including extra provocations. Also, we will have close cooperation with related countries and the international community to take counter measures against the launch.”
Kim’s office says he spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday and pledged to take “resolute” action, agreeing to refer the issue to the United Nations.
The Group of Eight leading industrialized nations also condemned the launch and urged North Korea not to conduct any further tests using ballistic missile technology. It also warned it would consider taking “appropriate actions” at the U.N. Security Council, which meets on Friday to discuss the issue.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is convening a ministerial meeting on the issue. The Security Council of Japan is also set to hold a meeting on Friday morning.
Meanwhile, military forces in South Korea and Japan remain on high alert for what they say could be more provocative actions by North Korea, which is currently in a month of celebration to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the country’s founding leader.
U.S. officials have said that Pyongyang may be planning to follow the launch with what would be its third underground nuclear weapons test. Satellite intelligence photographs made available to VOA and other news organizations this week show evidence of preparations for such a test.
North Korea’s launch plan has derailed a recent agreement with the U.S., under which Pyongyang agreed to suspend its nuclear weapons and missile programs. The U.S. was to have delivered 240,000 tons of badly needed food aid to the North.