North Korean launch 'deplorable'


UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon today condemned North Korea's long-range rocket test as deplorable, a direct violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1874 and a threat to regional stability.

"Despite its failure, the launch of a so-called application satellite by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) on 13 April 2012 is deplorable as it defies the firm and unanimous stance of the international community," Mr Ban said in a statement read out by a UN spokeswoman in Geneva.

North Korea admitted its much hyped long-range rocket failed to deliver a satellite into orbit today, while US and South Korean officials said it crashed into the sea a few minutes after launch.

The US Security Council will meet to discuss a possible condemnation of the launch, but opposition from veto-wielding permanent members China and Russia means new sanctions are highly unlikely.

The statement said Mr Ban urged North Korea not to undertake any further provocative actions that would heighten tension in the region.

The rocket crashed in a sea that separates the Korean peninsula from China off the west coast of South Korea after flying 120km from its launch site close to the Chinese border, officials in Seoul, Washington and Tokyo said.

Pyongyang had defied international pressure from the United States, the United Nations and others to push ahead with the launch timed to celebrate the 100th birthday of Kim Il-sung, the deceased founder of the state, and to coincide with the ascent to power of his grandson Kim Jong-un.

"The earth observation satellite failed to enter its preset orbit," a newsreader said on North Korea's state TV. "Scientists, technicians and experts are now looking into the cause of the failure."

It was an unusual admission of failure by the unpredictable regime, since it will be seen by its 23 million people who are only given access to state-controlled news sources. A similarly-failed launch in 2009 was touted by the North as a success.

China was not given advance notice about the exact timing of the rocket launch, a foreign ministry spokesman said today.

"Despite the failure of its attempted missile launch, North Korea's provocative action threatens regional security, violates international law and contravenes its own recent commitments," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.

Moscow opposes hitting North Korea with new sanctions over its failed rocket launch, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said today. "We do not believe in new sanctions - they will not do anything in terms of resolving the situation," he said after talks with this Chinese and Indian counterparts.

However, Russia criticised North Korea for the move, saying Pyongyang had defied the UN Security Council and that neighbouring powers all opposed it.

"UN resolutions contain concrete calls not to conduct such launches, and this is the shared approach of . . . Russia, China, the United States, South Korea and Japan," the Interfax news agency quoted Mr Lavrov as saying. "These five [nations] are united in their position," he added.

North Korea said it wanted the Unha-3 rocket to put a weather satellite into orbit, although critics believed it was designed to enhance its capacity to design a ballistic missile to deliver a nuclear warhead capable of hitting the continental United States.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command, Norad, said the first stage fell into the sea west of South Korea, and the remainder of the satellite-carrying missile was deemed to have failed. "No debris fell on land," Norad said. "At no time were the missile or the resultant debris a threat.

The world's most militarised border separates North and South Korea and the two states remain technically at war after an armistice ended the Korean War in 1953.

South Korea said it was dispatching ships to try to retrieve the rocket, which it said split into 20 fragments as the first and second stages failed to separate, showing that the new rocket had failed to travel as far as the previous one in 2009.

Close ally China had warned against the launch, and South Korean intelligence officials said Pyongyang may be ready to follow it up with a nuclear test as it did after a rocket launch in 2009, even though it could face more United Nations sanctions if it did.

The launch was announced just weeks after a "Leap Year" deal that saw Washington agree to provide food aid. Among the promises made by Pyongyang in return was that it would not launch a long range rocket or undertake nuclear tests.

Complaints from the United States, South Korea and Japan will likely lead to pressure for more sanctions to close Pyongyang's access to trade that could aid the North's programme, although China would probably resist even though its diplomacy failed to stop the rocket.

Now led by 20-something Kim Jong-un, the third of his line to hold power, North Korea had planned to make 2012 the year in which it became a "strong and prosperous nation" and the launch was part of a programme to burnish its credentials. It even invited foreign media in to cover the birthday celebrations and showed them the launch site.

Kim was named First Secretary of the Workers Party of Korea on Wednesday, as he accumulates titles and posts similar to those held by his father, Kim Jong-il.

State newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Friday dubbed him "the sun whom all the party members, service personnel and people of the DPRK [Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea] acclaimed out of their heartfelt desire".