North Korean rocket launch angers neighbours, US, NATO

North Korea calls launch of long-range rocket 'complete success,' in the face of US, NATO Japanese, South Korean, and Chinese criticism

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

North Korea launched a long-range rocket on Sunday, carrying what it called a satellite, but its neighbours the United States, Germany and NATO denounced the launch as a missile test, conducted in defiance of UN sanctions just weeks after a nuclear bomb test.

The US Strategic Command said it had detected a missile entering space and South Korea's military said the rocket had put an object into orbit.

North Korea said the launch of the satellite Kwangmyongsong-4, named after late leader Kim Jong Il, was a "complete success" and it was making a polar orbit of Earth every 94 minutes. 

The launch order was given by North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, who is believed to be 33 years old.

The launch prompted South Korea to announce it would begin talks with the United States on the deployment of an advanced missile defence system, which China and Russia both oppose, to counter what South Korea sees as the threat for the North.

North Korea's state news agency carried a still picture of a white rocket that closely resembled a previously launched rocket lifting off. Another showed Kim surrounded by cheering military officials at what appeared to be a command center.

North Korea's last long-range rocket launch, in 2012, put what it called a communications satellite into orbit, but no signal has ever been detected from it.

"If it can communicate with the Kwangmyongsong-4, North Korea will learn about operating a satellite in space," said David Wright, co-director and senior scientist at the Global Security Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"Even if not, it gained experience with launching and learned more about the reliability of its rocket systems."

The rocket lifted off at around 9:30 am Seoul time (0030 GMT) on a southward trajectory, as planned. Japan's Fuji Television Network showed a streak of light heading into the sky, taken from a camera at China's border with North Korea.

North Korea had notified UN agencies that it planned to launch a rocket carrying an Earth observation satellite, triggering opposition from governments that see it as a long-range missile test.

The UN Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on Sunday to discuss the launch, at the request of the United States, Japan and South Korea, diplomats said.

Isolated North Korea had initially given a time fram of Feb. 8-25 for the launch but on Saturday changed that to Feb. 7-14, apparently taking advantage of clear weather on Sunday.

North Korea's National Aerospace Development Administration called the launch "an epochal event in developing the country's science, technology, economy and defence capability by legitimately exercising the right to use space for independent and peaceful purposes."

The launch and the Jan. 6 nuclear test are seen as efforts by the North's young leader to bolster his domestic legitimacy ahead of a ruling party congress in May, the first since 1980.

New missile defence?

South Korea said it would begin discussions with the United States on an advanced missile-defence system called Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD), adding that it would only be used to target the North.

South Korea had been reluctant to discuss openly the possibility of deploying THAAD. China, the South's biggest trading partner, has expressed concern about a system whose radar could penetrate its territory.

South Korea's military said it would undertake annual military exercises with US forces "the most cutting-edge and the biggest" this year. North Korea objects to the drills as a prelude to war by a United States it says is bent on toppling the Pyongyang regime.

The United States has about 28,500 troops in South Korea.

US Army soldiers and its M2A2 Bradley fighting vehicles take part in the US-South Korea joint military exercise against possible attacks by North Korea at a shooting range near the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas.

US: Flagrant violation of UN resolutions

US Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States would work with the UN Security Council on "significant measures" to hold North Korea to account for what he called a flagrant violation of UN resolutions on North Korea's use of ballistic missile technology.

China expressed regret and called on all sides to act cautiously and refrain from steps that might raise tension. China is North Korea's main ally, although it disapproves of its nuclear weapons programme.

Russia: Disregard for norms of international law

Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Sunday a rocket launch by North Korea could not but provoke a "decisive protest," adding Pyongyang had once again demonstrated a disregard for norms of international law.

The ministry said in a statement on its website that such actions dealt a serious blow to the security of governments in the region, and first of all to North Korea itself.

"We strongly recommend the leadership of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea think about whether a policy of opposing the entire international community meets the interests of the country," the statement read. 

UN: Provocative actions

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the launch and urged North Korea to "halt its provocative actions."

South Korean President Park Geun-hye said it was an unforgivable act of provocation.

Australia: 'Threat to the region and to the globe'

Australia condemned what it called North Korea's dangerous conduct.

"North Korea continues to pose a threat to the region and to the globe, they are a threat to world peace and the Australian government joins with the international community in condemning North Korea's provocative, dangerous and destabilising behaviour," Bishop told reporters in Canberra on Sunday.

"Australia calls on the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il(un) to focus on the plight of the long-suffering people of North Korea and not to engage in nuclear weapons testing, ballistic missiles testing which is against all unanimous United Nations Security Council resolutions on this topic," she added.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the launch was "absolutely unacceptable," especially after the North's nuclear test last month.

Germany: 'Irresponsible provocation'

North Korea's launch of a long-range rocket on Sunday is an "irresponsible provocation," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.

"I strongly condemn today's launch of a ballistic missile by North Korea. The country has once again ignored warnings by the international community," Steinmeier said in a statement.

"The rocket launch is an irresponsible provocation, which disregards internationally-binding U.N. security council resolutions and is putting regional security on the line once again," he added.

NATO: 'Direct violation of UNSC resolutions'

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) also condemned North Korea's rocket launch on Sunday, saying it was in direct violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

"I strongly condemn the launch by North Korea of a rocket using ballistic missile technology today, which follows the North Korean nuclear weapons test on January 6," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called on North Korea not to threaten to conduct or conduct any launches using ballistic missile technology and to refrain from any further provocative actions.

"This launch is in direct violation of five United Nations Security Council Resolutions, which repeatedly call for North Korea to suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile programme, to re-establish its pre-existing commitments to a moratorium on missile launching and not to conduct any further nuclear test or any launch using ballistic missile technology," he said.

North Korea has said that its fourth nuclear test was of a hydrogen bomb. The United States and other governments have expressed doubt over that claim.

North Korea is believed to be working on miniaturising a nuclear warhead to put on a missile, but many experts say it is some way from perfecting such technology.

It has shown off two versions of a ballistic missile resembling a type that could reach the US West Coast, but there is no evidence the missiles have been tested. 

TRTWorld, Reuters