North Korea launched a three-stage rocket into space early Friday, in defiance of United Nations resolutions and warnings from the United States and other nations of repercussions.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry says the launch has failed.
Pyongyang said the rocket was placing a satellite in orbit. But Washington and its Asia allies, South Korea and Japan, suspect it is merely a cover for testing Pyongyang’s ballistic missile capabilities.
The U.N. Security Council will discuss the situation in North Korea and possible response to the defiant act in a session on Friday.
The Group of Eight leading industrialized nations earlier Thursday ordered Pyongyang to cancel the launch. The group issued a strong statement after a meeting in Washington. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that the U.N. Security Council will take further action if Pyongyang goes ahead with a rocket launch, which many believe is a ballistic missile test.
Speaking in Washington after meeting with her counterparts from the Group of Eight, Clinton also said that North Korea could choose between isolation and closer ties with the international community.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also urged North Korea to heed the call of the international community and cancel the upcoming rocket launch.
Mr. Ban spoke Thursday in Geneva, as North Korean engineers prepared to launch a rocket that Pyongyang says will carry a weather satellite into space. Western nations and regional neighbors accuse the North of using the launch as a ploy to test a ballistic missile that could later be fitted with a nuclear warhead.
The U.N. chief repeated warnings that the launch, which is set to take place sometime between Thursday and Monday, will raise tensions in the region. He also said it “clearly” violates a U.N. Security Council resolution aimed at reining in North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
Meanwhile, military forces in South Korea and Japan have been on high alert since Thursday on what the North had said was the first day of a five-day window for the launch.
South Korea threatened to shoot down the rocket if it appears likely to crash into South Korean territory. The Philippines, located near the planned splashdown site of the rocket’s first stage, has diverted airline flights and ordered fishermen to avoid the area.
Paek Chang Ho, chief of North Korea’s launch command center, told reporters Wednesday that fuel was being loaded into the rocket in one of the final steps before launch. The journalists, including a reporter with VOA’s Korean service, were able to view the activity by video, which was fed live to the remote command center.
U.S. officials fear 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.