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In rare move, North Korea admits to missile failure (+video)

But the failure, coming amid the build-up for the centennial of Kim Il-sung’s birth, does not appear to have changed North Korea’s policies. More missile tests are likely, say analysts.

By Donald KirkCorrespondent / April 13, 2012

South Korean soldier watches a TV news report about North Korea's long-range rocket at Seoul train station in Seoul, South Korea, Friday.

Lee Jin-man/AP

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Seoul, South Korea

The failure of North Korea’s long-range missile fueled fears today that the North may conduct its third underground nuclear test in the near future. 

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The North Korea missile launch was a dud. It blew up after 81 one seconds of flight. What's next?

Just hours after the missile plunged into the Yellow Sea, North Korea acknowledged the satellite said to be attached to the missile had “failed to enter its preset orbit.” Still, analysts questioned whether the missile actually carried a satellite. The clear purpose, they say, was to improve its capability to carry a warhead as far as the US West Coast.

The nature of the announcement, in the build-up for massive ceremonies marking the centennial Sunday of Kim Il-sung’s birth, suggests to analysts that North Korea’s policies remain unchanged – and that more missile tests, as well as another nuclear test, are likely.

The fact that North Korea acknowledged any level of failure came as a surprise – though the announcement on North Korea’s State TV network, by a woman wearing traditional Korean “hanbok” dress, did not reveal that the rocket had plunged into the sea slightly more than a minute after launch. The only detail offered was that assorted “scientists and engineers” were looking into the reasons for the “failure.”

“The implications are the same,” says L. Gordon Flake, director of the Mansfield Foundation in Washington. “Just because the test failed,” he says, does not enhance “the credibility of negotiators.”

North Korea's carefully phrased admission is likely to have been forced by the presence of foreign journalists, invited to Pyongyang to “witness” the launch. They first learned about the launch and, minutes later, about the failure, by phone calls to their home offices.

After the North Korean announcement, journalists were bussed to a ceremony for the unveiling of statues of KimIl-sung, the founding “great leader” who was born 100 years ago this Sunday, and his son, Kim Jong-il, who took over after his father’s death in 1994 and died last December. Kim Jong-il’s son and heir, Kim Jong-un, was at the center of leaders ranged in front of the statues, facing a throng of several thousand cheering people.

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