NKorea Praises Launch As Diplomatic Moves Stumble

By: Kwang-Tae Kim, Associated Press Email
By: Kwang-Tae Kim, Associated Press Email

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - North Korea's state media claimed Tuesday that a rocket launch seen overseas largely as a technical failure will propel the country to greatness, while moves at the United Nations to punish Pyongyang remained mired in a lack of consensus.

North Korea launched Sunday what it claims was a satellite that successfully entered orbit around Earth, defying international warnings that the move would violate U.N. resolutions and invite further censure.

The United States and South Korea, which said the North was using the satellite claim to hide a ballistic missile test, say it failed to send the payload into orbit.

The communist country's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper, however, said the event heralded victory for its plan to become a powerful nation by 2012, the 100th anniversary of the birth of national founder Kim Il Sung.

The successful launch is "a historic event that sounded the cannon's roar of victory in building a 'great prosperous powerful nation,"' the newspaper said in a lengthy editorial carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

"We should rush for the ultimate victory," the paper quoted North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, the son of Kim Il Sung, as saying.

In Washington, a top Pentagon official on Monday dismissed the launch as a failure - both technologically and as an effort to market its missiles to other countries.

"Would you buy from somebody that had failed three times in a row and never been successful?" Gen. James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asked during a press briefing at the Pentagon.

The launch, Cartwright said, showed that North Korea had failed to master the midair thrust shift from one rocket booster to another, an integral part of ballistic missile technology.

President Barack Obama and other world leaders called the launch a provocation that cannot go unanswered, but the U.N. Security Council was so divided it didn't even issue a preliminary statement of condemnation after an emergency session Sunday.

Diplomats privy to continuing talks in New York said China, Russia, Libya and Vietnam voiced concerns about further alienating and destabilizing North Korea. China, the North's closest ally, and Russia hold veto power as permanent members and could dilute any response.

The 15-member council did not schedule a meeting Monday on North Korea. But the five veto-holding permanent members - the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France - met privately with Japan for 1 1/2 hours during the afternoon.

No agreement was reached on a response, and the six ambassadors agreed to consult their capitals and meet again Tuesday, probably in the afternoon.

The firing of the three-stage rocket demonstrated only one minor victory: It went twice as far as one launched in 1998. It is still unclear what data North Korea's military and scientists might glean from their latest effort.

U.S. and South Korean officials said the entire rocket ended up in the ocean. South Korea said the second stage splashed down about 1,900 miles (3,100 kilometers) from the launch site.

Still, that is double the distance a North Korean rocket managed in 1998 and far better than a 2006 launch of a missile that fizzled 42 seconds after liftoff. Japan, Guam, the Philippines, Mongolia and parts of China are now within range, but Anchorage, Alaska, is roughly 3,500 miles (6,000 kilometers) from the launch site.

"They're still a long ways off" from being able to successfully target and strike the United States, said Daniel Pinkston, a Seoul-based analyst for the International Crisis Group.

North Korea also has not demonstrated the ability to assemble a miniaturized nuclear bomb for delivery via ballistic missile, the ICG said in a report last week.

Still, Kim Tae-woo, an analyst at Seoul's state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, said the launch raises the stakes at the stalled six-nation talks aimed at persuading the North to give up its nuclear weapons program in exchange for aid and other concessions.

Pyongyang now can seek more help because it has more to bargain away, Kim said. And, he added, "North Korea is playing a game of trying to manipulate the U.S. by getting it within range, which is the so-called pressure card."


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