State-run television gave North Koreans their first glimpse Tuesday of the country's "auspicious" rocket launch — and of an apparently healthy leader Kim Jong Il mingling with farmers and watching bears at the zoo.
What the TV didn't show was just as notable: footage of the "Dear Leader" during the 3 1/2 months after he is believed to have suffered a stroke that sparked fears of a succession crisis in the poor, nuclear-armed nation.
Kim, 67, is expected to make a triumphant public return when he presides over the first session of the country's new parliament Thursday for re-election as chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission.
North Korea claims Sunday's rocket launch shot a satellite into space, where it allegedly is playing melodious odes to Kim and his late father, who founded the reclusive communist country.
The U.S. and South Korea, however, say the rocket's second and third stages fell into the Pacific Ocean with the payload still attached. They say the launch was a cover for testing long-range missile technology.
Exclusive footage obtained Tuesday by APTN in Pyongyang showed a white rocket with "Chosun," the name North Koreans use for their country, emblazoned on the side in red. The 20-second clip shows the rocket blasting off, then blazing eastward across the sky.
Pyongyang citizen Ri Yong Hwa told APTN the launch was "a great, auspicious event for the nation that displays the spirit and merit of 'military first' Korea."
State-run TV called the launch a success and a "great inspiration" to its people.
The U.S., South Korea and Japan are leading a campaign at the U.N. Security Council to censure Pyongyang for the launch, saying it violated resolutions barring the country from firing rockets and other ballistic missile activity. North Korea claims it is entitled to the peaceful use of space and plans to launch more satellites.
Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone said the Security Council must make North Korea "pay for the act of provocation."
The U.S. warned that a response from the council will take time.
"This is not something you can expect that's going to be solved immediately," State Department spokesman Robert Wood said. Asked whether three days without U.N. action means North Korea can do whatever it wants with impunity, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, "It's not a long time in relations between nations or in the affairs of the Security Council."
The launch will be a hot topic at this weekend's East Asian Summit attended by China, South Korea, Japan and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Japan and South Korea want a strongly worded statement condemning the launch, but China — the North's closest ally — will almost certainly try to temper it.
Though the U.S. and South Korea say the rocket's payload fell into the Pacific, the rocket traveled 1,900 miles — twice as far as anything the North previously sent up.
"It's much more of a loss than a success," said Tim Brown, a senior fellow at the security analyst group Globalsecurity.org. Still, he added, "every launch, even if it's a failure, they learn something from it."
The launch also will give Pyongyang an extra bargaining chip at stalled six-nation talks aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program in exchange for aid.
Kim visits zoo
North Korean television Tuesday also showed new images of Kim, who has led the nation of 24 million people with absolute authority since his father died in 1994. It was believed to be the first video of Kim since he fell from public view in mid-August and reappeared in early October, with the only images on TV coming in still photos.
U.S. and South Korean officials say Kim suffered a stroke in mid-August; North Korea has denied it.
The hourlong broadcast documented Kim's "on-the-spot field guidance," showing him mingling with livestock farmers and workers making machinery, soap and medicine. He also was shown watching bears frolicking at the Pyongyang Zoo, touring a folk village and arriving at a concert to cheers and applause.
The documentary showed Kim in early August, then jumped to Nov. 24 footage of a factory visit. The video ended with a Dec. 24 visit to a steel factory.
A separate report in Rodong Sinmun, the North's main newspaper, said Kim "was choked with sobs" as he thought of the poor citizens who may have been better off using the money that instead went to Sunday's rocket launch.
Analysts say the launch was designed to rally support for Kim as he prepares to formally ascend to his third term amid speculation about who will succeed him.
"At a minimum, he had a serious health scare," said Korea affairs expert Peter M. Beck. "Authoritarian, totalitarian regimes are at their most vulnerable in transition periods, and none of his (three) sons seem up to the task of ruling the country any time soon."