North Korea may have rushed its rocket launch in an effort to beat rival South Korea into space and suffered the same problem as in previous long-range missile tests, a security analyst said Tuesday.
Even as Pyongyang continued to claim it put a satellite into orbit, the rest of the world was analyzing what appeared to be largely another failure, although the distance that the rocket traveled was twice as far as anything the North previously sent up.
U.N. Security Council diplomats remained mired in squabbling over how - or even whether - to punish North Korea for what President Barack Obama and other world leaders called a provocative launch and a violation of sanctions imposed after the North's underground nuclear test in 2006.
"Although we still have some disagreements, we should continue to make our efforts to send a clear message," Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso told reporters in Tokyo. "We must swiftly send a clear message against the action (by North Korea), which ignored repeated warnings."
Diplomats privy to continuing talks in New York said China, Russia, Libya and Vietnam have voiced concerns about further alienating and destabilizing North Korea.
China, the North's closest ally, and Russia hold veto power as ermanent members and could dilute any response.
"We should avoid making hasty decisions. It is clear that the situation does not arouse joy; it arouses concerns," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday, according to the Interfax news agency.
And in Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu declined to label the liftoff as a provocative act and said it wasn't yet clear whether it was an attempt to place a satellite in orbit or a long-range missile test.
The North claims it is entitled to the peaceful use of space and says it plans to launch more satellites.
The U.S., South Korea and Japan say the same technology applies to banned ballistic missiles.
The communist country, which carried out a nuclear test in 2006, is believed to have up to eight nuclear warheads. However, North Korea has not demonstrated the ability to assemble a miniaturized nuclear bomb for delivery via ballistic missile, several analysts have said.
Pyongyang's repeated claims of success likely are linked to the opening of North Korea's parliament on Thursday, when leader Kim Jong Il is expected to make his first major public appearance since last August. U.S. and South Korean officials say he suffered a stroke; North Korea denies he was ever ill.
Impoverished North Korea could also be showing off its missile technology for export.
"I think that's one of the reasons for developing" the rocket, South Korean Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee told a parliamentary meeting.
Pyongyang is suspected of sharing missile technology with Iran, and an intelligence expert with a track record of accurate information said a 15-member Iranian delegation went to the launch site last Thursday.
He spoke on condition on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
"The Iranians look to be a little further ahead," said Tim Brown, a senior fellow at the security analyst group Globalsecurity.org, which released a satellite photo Tuesday showing the rocket shortly after launch, a plume of fire and smoke trailing behind. "The Iranians were successful last year in putting up a satellite, and the North Koreans weren't."
Brown said the rocket's second and third stages, tracked by the U.S. and South Korea as they fell into the Pacific Ocean with the payload still attached, appeared to be the problem, the same issue the North has had with previous launches that fizzled.
"The second and third stages appear to have had trouble separating," he said, mirroring comments from other analysts. "It kind of seems like they're stuck with the same problem. It's much more of a loss than a success."
Still, the launch was valuable.
"Every launch, even if it's a failure, they learn something from it," Brown said. "In the early stages of the U.S. space program, there were a lot of failures."
South Korea, which has sent six satellites into orbit from foreign space centers, had planned to carry out its own launch by June aboard a rocket developed jointly with Russia, but has postponed it by a month. Brown suggested the North may have tried to put up a satellite first for a propaganda victory.
The communist country's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper 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 Tuesday by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
"We should rush for the ultimate victory," the paper quoted supreme leader Kim, son of the North's founding father Kim Il Sung, as saying.
South Korea said most of the rocket 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.
And the launch no doubt will succeed in raising the stakes at
stalled six-nation talks aimed at persuading the North to give up
its nuclear weapons program in exchange for aid and other
concessions, said Kim Tae-woo, an analyst at Seoul's state-run
Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.
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