Washington: The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday condemned North Korea for launching a long-range rocket in defiance of UN resolutions.
The Unha rocket, named after the Korean word for "galaxy”, blasted off from the Sohae launch pad in Tongchang-ri, northwest of Pyongyang, shortly before 10 am (0100 GMT) on Wednesday, just three days after North Korea indicated that technical problems might delay the launch.
The UNSC, which has punished North Korea repeatedly for developing its nuclear program, said it will urgently consider "an appropriate response” to the rocket launch, which violated a 2009 council resolution banning "any launch using ballistic missile technology”.
However, the Obama administration shied away from drawing a "red line" for North Korea after the successful launch of a three-stage rocket, tempering the public condemnation to avoid raising tensions or possibly rewarding the reclusive communist nation with too much time in the global spotlight.
The US has told the world that it won`t tolerate Iran`s acquisition of nuclear weapons or Syria`s use of chemical stockpiles on rebels. North Korea, in some ways, is a trickier case.
The US wants to forcefully condemn what it believes is a "highly provocative act”, and that was the first public reaction from the White House late Tuesday. But it also is mindful of the turmoil on the Korean peninsula and treading carefully, offering no threat of military action or unspecified "consequences" associated with other hot spots.
Wednesday`s surprising, successful launch raises the stakes, taking North Korea one step closer to being capable of lobbing nuclear bombs over the Pacific. As the North refines its technology, its next step may be conducting another nuclear test, experts warn.
The three-stage rocket is similar in design to a model capable of carrying a nuclear-tipped warhead as far as California. The rocket launched a satellite into space. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said the US would study the launch.
"I think we still have to assess just exactly what happened here," Panetta told CNN in an interview on Wednesday. He said part of the assessment would examine the final stage that launched the satellite "to determine, really, whether or not that did work effectively or whether it tumbled into space. I mean, that`s the issue that we need to assess”.
Despite its technological advances and military bluster, it`s doubtful that the North intends to strike first against the US.
Even so, Panetta said the US has the capability to prevent such a strike.
North Korea has spent decades threatening but avoiding a direct confrontation with the tens of thousands of American forces in South Korea and Japan. The government has remained firmly in power despite a drought-plagued agricultural sector that leaves many North Koreans in search of food and a crumbling economy that affords few any chance of social betterment.
"It is regrettable that the leadership in Pyongyang chose to take this course in flagrant violation of its international obligations," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. He said the US would try to further isolate North Korea in response.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called the launch "highly provocative and a threat to regional security”. It will only further impoverish North Koreans, she said.
Neither Carney nor Nuland elaborated on possible consequences.
The United States remains technically at war with the notoriously unpredictable North Koreans, whose opaque leadership has confounded successive American administrations. With no peace agreement, only the 1953 armistice ending the Korean War keeps the US and the North from hostilities. Some 28,500 US troops remain in South Korea to deter potential aggression.
(With Agency inputs)