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S. Korea: N. Korea launches rocket

Sunday, April 5, 2009

SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- North Korea launched a long-range rocket on Sunday in what U.S. and South Korean officials deemed a provocative act.

While the United States and South Korea confirmed the rocket launch, the payload of the rocket remains unclear. North Korea has said the rocket was to carry a satellite into space, but the United States, South Korea and other nations fear it could be a missile with a warhead attached.

"With this provocative act, North Korea has ignored its international obligations, rejected unequivocal calls for restraint, and further isolated itself from the community of nations," U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement after the launch.

"We will immediately consult with our allies in the region, including Japan and (South Korea), and members of the U.N. Security Council to bring this matter before the Council," Obama added. "I urge North Korea to abide fully by the resolutions of the U.N. Security Council and to refrain from further provocative actions."

The council scheduled a meeting for Sunday afternoon after Japan's representative to the United Nations, Yukio Takasu, sent a letter requesting an urgent meeting in response to the launch.

A senior Obama administration official in Washington confirmed that the rocket did clear Japan.

Japan's chief Cabinet secretary told reporters after the launch that the country's military was not forced to intercept any missile, which it had pledged to do if necessary. Preliminary data show that two objects, likely boosters from the rocket, apparently fell around Japan, one in the Sea of Japan and one in the Pacific Ocean.
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The rocket -- launched at about 11:30 a.m. local time Sunday (2:30 a.m. GMT) -- was a "provocative act in violation" of a U.N. Security Council resolution on North Korea's weapons program, Fred Lash, a State Department spokesman, told reporters.

An October 2006 resolution condemned North Korea for missile launches in the summer and a nuclear test that same month

"We don't know anything on whether it had an orbital configuration," Lash said about whether the rocket might have carried a satellite. "There is nothing confirmed."

The office of the South Korean president condemned the launch, calling it a "serious threat" to world peace, the state-sponsored Yonhap news agency reported.

"We cannot withhold our regrets and disappointment that North Korea has caused such a serious threat to peace on the Korean Peninsula and in the world by firing a long-range rocket when the entire world is joining efforts to overcome the global economic crisis," Lee Dong-kwan, a presidential spokesman said, according to Yonhap.

Earlier Sunday, before the launch, South Korea's national security council called an emergency meeting amid concerns that a North Korean rocket launch was imminent, a presidential spokesperson told CNN on Sunday.

Western nations fear that North Korea plans a ballistic missile test rather than a satellite launch, but the Obama administration's special envoy to the Six-Party Talks, Stephen Bosworth, said last week that it didn't matter if the North Koreans were trying to put a satellite in space or testing a ballistic missile that could threaten Japan or the United States.

"Whether it is a satellite launch or a missile launch, in our judgment makes no difference. It is a provocative act," Bosworth said.

Bosworth said the U.S. stands ready -- after a launch -- to participate in United Nations deliberations on new sanctions against North Korea, and will be "working very closely with our partners to ensure that after the dust of the missiles settles a bit, we get back to the longer-term priority of the missile -- of the Six-Party Talks."

And, he said, he was prepared to go to Pyongyang after a launch, if invited.

"In my experience in dealing with North Koreans, pressure is not the most productive line of approach," he said. "You have to combine pressure with incentives and I think we are in a position to begin talking about things that we can provide and do what the North Koreans would find positive," which included talking about normalizing the relationship between North Korea and the United States.

U.S. Rep. Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a statement late Saturday.

"It is alarming that North Korea carried out this missile launch in direct defiance of the international community," Berman said. "The test is an unnecessary provocation that raises tensions in the region, and I urge the North Koreans to stop using their missile and WMD programs to threaten their neighbors and the rest of the world."


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