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Published: Monday, 4/6/2009

Launch by North Korea spurs global outcry


UNITED NATIONS - The United States and its allies sought punishment yesterday 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 Obama, faced with his first global security crisis, called for an international response and condemned North Korea for threatening the peace and stability of nations "near and far." Minutes after the lift-off, Japan requested the emergency Security Council session in New York.

Looking at the launch from a purely technical vantage point, space experts said North Korea failed.

After reviewing detailed tracking information, military and private experts said the missile and payload fell into the sea.

The experts said the failure represented a blow that in all likelihood would seriously delay the missile's debut.

"It's a setback," said Jonathan McDowell, a Harvard astronomer who tracks satellites and rocket launchings, said. He added that the North Koreans must now find and fix the problem.

But many world leaders fear the launch indicates the capacity to fire a long-range missile. Pyongyang said it launched an experimental communications satellite into orbit yesterday and that it is transmitting data and patriotic music.

"North Korea broke the rules, once again, by testing a rocket that could be used for long-range missiles," Mr. Obama said in Prague. "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."

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.

In response to the launch, Japan's prime minister, Taro Aso, ordered the government to confirm the safety of the country.

U.N. Security Council members met for three hours, seeking above all a unified response, but broke up for the night without issuing even a customary preliminary statement.

Diplomats privy to the closed-door talks say China, Russia, Libya, and Vietnam were concerned about further alienating and destabilizing North Korea.

Yukio Takasu, Japan's ambassador to the United Nations, called for a "clear, unified, and firm" council resolution to back up the earlier sanctions.

The United States, Britain, France, and Japan drafted a proposal for a resolution that could be adopted by the end of the week.

Although North Korea has repeatedly been belligerent and threatening - as it was when it carried out an underground nuclear blast and tested ballistic missiles in recent years - it showed increased savvy this time that may make severe punishment complicated.

Unlike its previous provocations, the North notified the international community that the launch was coming and gave the route the rocket would take, although critics of North Korea leader Kim Jong Il say he really was testing a ballistic missile capable of hitting U.S. territory.

Using a possible loophole in U.N. sanctions imposed after the 2006 nuclear test that barred the North from ballistic missile activity, the Pyongyang government said it was exercising its right to peaceful space development.

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