As North Korea celebrates surprise rocket launch, alarm mounts abroad (+video)
North Korea went ahead with a rocket launch despite international pressure to call it off. Critics say the launch masks a weapons development effort and is a clear violation of UN sanctions.
North Korea scored a stunning success Wednesday, firing a long-range rocket that put its own satellite into orbit for the first time, one day after South Korean officials claimed North Korean engineers were dismantling the rocket for repairs.Skip to next paragraph
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The North insisted on going through with the launch in the face of widespread international criticism, underscoring its determination to produce missiles for its own use and export – and possibly carrying out a third nuclear test.
South Korea joined the United States and Japan in strongly condemning the launch as a clear violation of UN sanctions imposed after previous launches of similar rockets in 2006 and 2009. US, South Korean, and Japanese officials see the move as basically a test of a fearsome device capable of delivering a nuclear or chemical warhead as far as Hawaii, Alaska, or even the US West Coast.
A spokesman for the National Security Council in Washington denounced the launch as “a highly provocative act that threatens regional security” using “ballistic missile technology despite express prohibitions by UN Security Council resolutions.”
Douglas Paal of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who was in Seoul to participate in a conference at the Asan Institute, sees the launch as a prelude to North Korea’s third underground nuclear test.
North Korea tested nuclear devices with plutonium at their core in 2006 and 2009, but has yet to test a device made from highly enriched uranium.
“An HEU explosion,” Paal says, “will give them leverage against South Korea.”
Publicly, North Korea is priding itself on a test that honors the late “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il before the first anniversary of his death next Monday. The capital, Pyongyang, burst into celebration after the launch, which the North says proves its claims that all its launches were for scientific purposes.
“The successful launch of the satellite is a proud fruition of the Workers' Party of Korea's policy of attaching importance to the science and technology,” says Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). “It is also an event of great turn in developing the country's science, technology and economy by fully exercising the independent right touse space for peaceful purposes.”
The success of the launch before the anniversary of Mr. Kim’s death seems all the more meaningful in view of the failure of a long-range missile that crashed into the Yellow Sea west of South Korea last April 13 shortly after liftoff. That launch was intended to celebrate the centennial of the birth of “Great Leader” Kim Il-sung, father of Kim Jong-il and grandfather of “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong-un. Kim Il-sung ruled for nearly half a century before his death in 1994.