N Korea’s rocket launch fails in a setback for new leader
PYONGYANG A SATELLITE launch North Korea had hailed as a moment of national pride ended in failure on Friday when the rocket disintegrated over the Yellow Sea, earning Pyongyang embarrassment as well as condemnation from a host of nations that deemed it a covert test of missile technology.
In a rare move, Pyongyang admitted that the rocket did not deliver a satellite, but it also pressed ahead with grandiose propaganda in praise of the ruling Kim family.
The United States and South Korea declared the early-morning launch a failure minutes after the rocket shot out from the North’s west coast. North Korea acknowledged that some four hours later in an announcement broadcast on state TV, saying the satellite that the rocket was carrying did not enter orbit.
North Korea had held up the launch as a scientific achievement and even a gift for its late founder, Kim Il Sung, two days before the 100th anniversary of his birth. It pressed ahead even as world leaders vowed to take action in the UN Security Council against what they called a flagrant violation of international resolutions prohibiting North Korea from developing its nuclear and missile programs.
The rocket’s destruction suggests the country has yet to master the technology needed to build long-range missiles that could threaten the United States. Still, worries remain about North Korea’s nuclear program amid reports that it may be planning an atomic test soon.
The launch is also a setback for the government of new leader Kim Jong Un, which had projected the satellite as a show of strength amid North Korea’s persistent economic hardship. Kim is solidifying power following the death of his father, longtime leader Kim Jong Il, four months ago.
Kim Jong Un has been given several important titles intended to strengthen his rule this week. Hours after the failed launch, state media said he was named first chairman of the powerful National Defence Commission during a meeting of the Supreme People’s Assembly.
Kim Jong Il, who ruled the country in his capacity as chairman of the commission, was given the title of “chairman for eternity.” Outsiders, meanwhile, focused on the launch, which was condemned by the foreign ministers of the Group of Eight industrialised nations meeting in Washington, including Russia. The UN Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting for later on Friday, and Washington said it was suspending plans to contribute food aid to the North in exchange for a rollback of its nuclear programs.
But the US is not expected to seek an additional Security Council resolution against North Korea. Another administration official said existing sanctions resolutions against North Korea are adequate and said their enforcement could be “ratcheted up.” The Obama administration believes US sanctions against North Korea, particularly on its ability to obtain advanced electronics for guidance systems, have restricted its proliferation activities.
US Navy minesweepers and other ships in the area were expected to begin scouring the sea for debris from the rocket, which can offer evidence of what went wrong and what rocket technology North Korea has.