North Korea rocket launch sparks outrage
Published Sunday, April 5, 2009 7:59PM EDT
Washington and its allies urged punitive action against North Korea after the communist regime launched a rocket Sunday which reportedly burned out and crashed into the Pacific.
Responding to the launch, the United Nations Security Council convened for an emergency meeting Sunday afternoon, amid concern Pyongyang was testing a long-range ballistic missile, which could one day transmit a nuclear warhead.
North Korea maintains it sent its "Kwangmyongsong-2" satellite into orbit at 11:30 a.m. local time as part of an effort to develop its space program.
Four hours after the launch, North Korea said the communications satellite was orbiting Earth, transmitting revolutionary songs and gathering "measurement data."
And on Sunday evening, North Korea's state news agency reported that leader Kim Jong Ill watched the liftoff from the nation's space centre and expressed "great satisfaction" in the satellite's successful launch.
U.S. President Barack Obama, who was in Prague for a meeting with European leaders on Sunday, condemned the launch and said it threatened the security of countries around the world.
"North Korea broke the rules once more by testing a rocket that could be used for a long-range missile," Obama said. "This provocation underscores the need for action -- not just this afternoon at the UN Security Council, but in our determination to prevent the spread of these weapons."
A joint statement by the U.S. and the European Union was even more harsh in its assessment of the incident.
"North Korea's development of a ballistic missile capability, regardless of the stated purpose of this launch, is aimed at providing it with the ability to threaten countries near and far with weapons of mass destruction," the statement said.
However, it's expected that Russia and China, who hold a veto in the Security Council, will counter calls for swift and strong punishment against North Korea out of fear strong sanctions could further isolate the small country.
Diplomats close to the discussions said that a unified resolution, which could include new or tightened sanctions from the Security Council, may not be issued until later in the week.
According to both the South Korean and U.S. governments, a multi-stage rocket lifted off from the Musudan-ri launch pad in northeastern Korea.
The rocket reached Japanese airspace in about seven minutes as it headed for the Pacific Ocean.
North American Aerospace Defence Command and U.S. Northern Command officials said in a joint statement that the rocket's first stage fell into the waters between Korea and Japan, while the other two stages landed in the Pacific Ocean.
The launch defied calls by Obama, Japanese leader Taro Aso and others to cancel the launch, saying it would threaten peace and stability in Asia.
The launch was "an extremely provocative act that cannot be overlooked," Aso said.
Launch deemed 'unacceptable'
"The North Korea missile test today is completely unacceptable," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said. "It's a breach of international obligations. It will be condemned in every country across the world and they should desist from testing and proliferating nuclear weapons."
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said North Korea's decision to go "against strong international appeal" was regrettable.
"Given the volatility in the region, as well as a stalemate in interaction among the concerned parties, such a launch is not conducive to efforts to promote dialogue, regional peace and stability," Ban said in a statement from Paris.
In Canada, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon called on North Korea to honour its obligations under UN Resolution 1718, which calls for it to cease its nuclear program and halt long-range missile tests.
"Canada is very concerned by North Korea's decision to launch a long-range rocket," Cannon said Sunday in a statement. "This ill-advised action undermines confidence in North Korea's commitment to peace and security."
"Canada calls upon North Korea to comply fully with the requirements of UNSCR 1718 and suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program," Cannon added.
However, both China and Russia called for calm among the international community.
China offered to play a "constructive role," as the international community decides on a response to the launch. It could also use its veto power to block any unified response by the Security Council.
A statement from Russia's Foreign Ministry urged "all states concerned to show restraint in judgments and action in the current situation, and to be guided by objective data on the nature of North Korea's launch."
North Korea defended the launch, saying its participation in a UN space treaty allows it to send a satellite into orbit.
Officials were careful to give the rocket's flight path to international maritime and aviation authorities.
In recent years, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has appeared to use the threat of nuclear weapons as a means to extract aid funds from other nations. In the aftermath of other missile tests, Washington has been forced into negotiating with the North.
There is also concern that North Korea will sell its missile technology to nations or groups willing to pay.
So far, Washington has taken a regional approach to North Korea by using six-nation talks for negotiations. However, it's widely believed that Kim wants direct, bilateral talks with the U.S.
With files from The Associated Press