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North Korea defied warnings from the international community and launched an intercontinental missile capable of reaching Alaska and Hawaii on Sunday. The move sent tremors through the communist state's neighbors and may result in tightened international sanctions.
North Korean officials claim that the 3-stage Taepodong-2 missile was used to put a communications satellite into orbit. In 2006, North Korea tried unsuccessfully to launch a Taepodong-2 missile, but the Washington Post reports that the Asian nation has been working with Iran to develop the technology. In February, Iran also launched one of the missiles.
North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command officials issued a statement disputing any success.
"Stage one of the missile fell into the Sea of Japan," the statement said. "The remaining stages along with the payload itself landed in the Pacific Ocean. No object entered orbit and no debris fell on Japan."
"Judging from the track the rocket made when North Korea fired, it was confirmed as the rocket to the space. But whether a satellite is actually loaded or not has not been confirmed," the Korea Times quotes an unnamed official as saying.
Japan, which already had tense relations with North Korea, was among the most vocal within the international community condemning the launch. Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura, Japan's government spokesman said his nation would extend sanctions against North Korea that were due to expire on April 13 for another year, but it would await response from the United Nations Security Council before enacting additional measures, reports The Japan Times.
"I cannot help but say that the launch, carried out by North Korea despite repeated requests to refrain from doing so, was a grave provocative action from the viewpoint of security," Kawamura said. "It is a violation of United Nations Resolutions 1695 and 1718, and it is extremely regrettable."
The missile passed over Japan during its flight on Sunday, dropping debris off the coast. It is the first time since 1998 that North Korea has fired a missile over Japan, reports The Yomiuri Shimbun. The recent missile launch has put the Japanese diplomatic and security community on high alert.
The government planned to have the SDF [Self-Defense Forces] intercept the missile with its missile defense system if it was projected to come down on Japanese soil or in Japanese territorial waters. However, because the government's analysis shortly after the launch showed that the missile was unlikely to come down on the Japanese territory, it decided not to intercept it.
However, the SDF and US forces remain on high alert because North Korea might launch more missiles.
In China, Jiang Yu, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman called for "calm and restraint" from the international community in an effort to "safeguard [the] peace and stability of the region," reports Xinhua. Ms. Yu added that China plans to play a "constructive role" in future talks.
The UN Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on Sunday afternoon to discuss North Korea's missile launch.
"These actions place additional strains on regional stability at a time when the unresolved nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula requires mutual confidence-building," the Czech EU presidency said in a statement today.
President Barack Obama has called the launch a "provocative act" that violated UN regulations. In an official statement, posted in full on the Huffington Post, the US president called on North Korea to abandon its development of weapons of mass destruction if it wanted to gain the acceptance of the international community.
We will immediately consult with our allies in the region, including Japan and the Republic of Korea, and members of the UN Security Council to bring this matter before the Council. I urge North Korea to abide fully by the resolutions of the UN Security Council and to refrain from further provocative actions.
While North Korea has tested nuclear weapons, Al Jazeera International reports that it has not created one small enough to put it on a missile. In a video report examining the recent history of North Korea's missile program, Al Jazeera speaks with Kim Tae-Woo, an expert at the Korea Institute of Defence Analysis, about what North Korea had to gain by ignoring international admonitions and proceeding with the test.
Number one, North Korea is trying to send a message to [the] Obama government. Number two, North Korea is trying to manage the sense of insecurity of its own political system by creating some tensions. And number three North Korea still continues a war of nerves against South Korea's [President Lee] Myung-bak government.