SEOUL, South Korea — The U.S. and its allies sought punishment Sunday for North Korea's defiant launch of a rocket that apparently fizzled into the Pacific, holding an emergency U.N. meeting in response to the "provocative act" that some believe was a long-range missile test.
President Barack Obama called for a global response and condemned North Korea for threatening the peace and stability of nations "near and far." Minutes after liftoff, Japan requested the emergency Security Council session in New York.
U.S. and South Korean officials claim the entire rocket, including whatever payload it carried, ended up in the ocean but many world leaders fear the launch indicates the capacity to fire a long-range missile. Pyongyang claims it launched an experimental communications satellite into orbit Sunday and that it's transmitting data and patriotic songs.
"North Korea broke the rules, once again, by testing a rocket that could be used for long-range missiles," Obama said in Prague. "It creates instability in their region, around the world. This provocation underscores the need for action, not just this afternoon in the U.N. Security Council, but in our determination to prevent the spread of these weapons."
Council members above all sought a unified response and did not expect to reach agreement on a new resolution, possibly with tighter or added sanctions, until later in the week, diplomats privy to the closed talks said.
While the rogue communist state has repeatedly been belligerent and threatening — as it was when it carried out an underground nuclear blast and tested ballistic missiles in recent years — Pyongyang showed increased savvy this time that may make severe punishment more complicated than ever.
World knew launch was coming
Unlike its previous provocations, the North notified the international community that the launch was coming and the route the rocket would take — although critics of North Korea leader Kim Jong Il claim he really was testing a ballistic missile capable of hitting U.S. territory.
Using a possible loophole in sanctions imposed after the 2006 nuclear test that barred the North from ballistic missile activity, the government claimed it was exercising its right to peaceful space development.
The U.S. said nuclear-armed North Korea clearly violated the resolution, but objections from Russia and China — the North's closest ally — will almost certainly water down any strong response. Both have Security Council veto power.
Obviously today's action by North Korea constitutes a clear violation," said Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. "My government has called this a provocative act, and we have been in consultation today with our allies in the region and other partners on the Security Council ... to work toward agreement on a strong collective action."
Yukio Takasu, Japan's ambassador to the U.N., called the launch "a clear crime" violating U.N. Security Council demands that posed a grave threat to his nation's security. North Korea had warned that debris might fall off Japan's northern coast when the rocket's first stage fell away, so Tokyo positioned batteries of interceptor missiles on its coast and radar-equipped ships to monitor the launch. Nary a shot was necessary.
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Sanctions have had little effect
Analysts say sanctions imposed after the North's underground nuclear test in 2006 appear to have had little effect because implementation was left up to individual countries, some of which showed no will to impose them.
Kim is reportedly a big film buff, and his strategy appears to have borrowed heavily from the 1959 movie "The Mouse That Roared," about a fictional poor country that declares war on the U.S., expecting to lose and get aid like the Marshall Plan that Washington used to help rebuild its World War II foes.
In a statement released just hours after the launch, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said North Korea had informed Moscow ahead of time, and Russian radars tracked it.
Russia urges "all states concerned to show restraint in judgments and action," Nesterenko said.
One of world's poorest countries
Despite its policy of "juche," or "self-reliance," communist North Korea is one of the world's poorest countries, has few allies and is in desperate need of outside help. The money that flowed in unconditionally from neighboring South Korea for a decade dried up when conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office in 2008.
Pyongyang has little collateral, and for years has used its nuclear weapons program as its trump card, promising to abandon its atomic ambitions in exchange for aid and then dangling the nuclear threat when it doesn't get its way.
It's been an effective strategy so far, with previous missile launches drawing Washington to negotiations. The North also has reportedly been selling missile parts and technology to whoever has the cash to pay for it.
Kim wants food for his famished people, fuel and — perhaps most importantly — direct talks and relations with Washington.
Right now, the main contact is through six-nation talks aimed at getting Pyongyang to give up its worrisome nuclear weapons program. But that means dealing with two neighbors that the North despises most, Japan and South Korea.
It probably isn't a coincidence that the rocket was fired over Japan. North Korea had warned that debris might fall off Japan's northern coast when the rocket's first stage fell away, so Tokyo positioned batteries of interceptor missiles on its coast and radar-equipped ships off its northern seas to monitor the launch. Nary a shot was necessary.
'We must deal with North Korea'
Obama warned the launch would further isolate the reclusive nation. But pragmatism calls for engagement, especially with efforts to get North Korea back to the negotiating table for the six-party talks.
"We must deal with North Korea as we find it, not as we would like it to be," Stephen Bosworth, the U.S. envoy on North Korea, said Friday. "I've long since suppressed my tendency toward frustration. What is required is patience and perseverance."
Kim Keun-sik, a North Korea expert at South Korea's Kyungnam University, said the launch would chill ties between Pyongyang and Washington, but likely not for long.
"Wouldn't they eventually come to hold talks? There is no other way," Kim said.
U.S. officials also are trying to obtain the release of two American journalists recently detained by the North along its border with China. Paik Hak-soon, an analyst at the Sejong Institute think tank, predicted they would be used as bargaining chips, with the North likely "to try to link them to the nuclear and missile talks."
Iran, which also has a contentious relationship with the international community over its nuclear program and is believed to have cooperated extensively with North Korea on missile technology, defended the launch.
"North Korea, like any other country, has the right to enter space," Iran's state TV said in a commentary, adding that the "pressure on North Korea to give up its undisputable right" was "unfair and dishonest."
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