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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.

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The US, South Korea, and Japan all denounced the launch as a violation of UN sanctions imposed after North Korea test-fired an earlier version of the same type of missile in April 2009 and six weeks later conducted its second underground nuclear test. The UN Security Council, meeting today, was expected to condemn the latest missile test even though China, the source of almost all North Korea’s fuel and much of its food, might oppose strengthened sanctions while calling for “peace and stability” on the Korean peninsula.

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The question, says Mr. Flake, is “Does North Korea have greater pressure to go ahead with a nuclear test?”

The logic here is that Kim Jong-un, in his late 20’s, needing to consolidate his power, may now need to overcome the embarrassment of failure by demonstrating North Korea’s prowess as  a nuclear power.

Flake cites the Spring 2009 missile launch and subsequent nuclear test as a disturbing precedent “for them to do these things in pairs.”

Analysts note, moreover, that North Korea may well respond adversely to criticism by the UN Security Council even if the Chinese response is weak. North Korea in effect has made clear, says Flake, “If you criticize our right to do a satellite, we will do a nuclear test.”

Scott Snyder, Korea expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, believes, however, that North Korea will need to come up with “a justification” for a nuclear test to convince those in sympathy with the regime’s sense of isolation and encirclement by hostile powers.

One sure sign of where North Korea is going on the nuclear issue is whether the International Atomic Energy Agency is able to send in inspectors as agreed in talks in Beijing between US and North Korean negotiators in February. That whole deal has collapsed as a result of the missile test, but the possibility remains that IAEA inspectors may visit the North’s main nuclear complex.

“They won’t see facilities elsewhere,” says Mr. Snyder, “but laying eyes on that facility might tell us more about the state of uranium enrichment” of nuclear devices.

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