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U.N. Security Council discusses concerns about North Korea launch

From Tim Schwarz, CNN
updated 6:57 PM EDT, Fri April 13, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Security Council members "deplored this launch," president of the council says
  • The North Korean rocket broke up 81 seconds into flight, a U.S. official says
  • Short-lived flight never escaped the atmosphere, officials say
  • U.S. official confirms North Korea food aid program is suspended because of launch

Pyongyang, North Korea (CNN) -- The U.N. Security Council on Friday discussed North Korea's botched rocket launch amid concerns that the secretive and often unpredictable regime may follow it with a nuclear test or military move.

"Members of the Security Council deplored this launch," said U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, speaking on behalf of the council in her capacity as council president. "Members of the Security Council agreed to continue consultations on an appropriate response, in accordance with its responsibilities given the urgency of the matter."

The rocket broke apart Friday 81 seconds after its launch at 7:38 a.m., then fell into the ocean, a U.S. official said.

The launch drew condemnation from United States and countries in the region, as well as an unusual admission of failure from Pyongyang. After previous failed launches, the normally secretive regime has insisted that they were successful.

"Scientists, technicians and experts are now looking into the cause of the failure," North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said in a report, which was read on state-run television.

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North Korea said the rocket was designed to carry an observation satellite into orbit. But the United States, South Korea and Japan said that was a cover for a long-range ballistic missile test.

"They have to understand they only deepened their isolation by going down this road," Ben Rhodes, U.S. deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said Friday.

More provocative action could lead to tighter sanctions, Rhodes said.

In the meantime, as a result of the launch, the United States has suspended an agreement reached in February to provide food aid to North Korea, Rhodes said.

"Their efforts to launch a missile clearly demonstrate that they could not be trusted to keep their commitment. Therefore, we are not going forward with an agreement to provide them with any assistance," he said.

"We have not provided them with any assistance, and it is impossible to see how we could move forward with the February agreement, given the action that they have taken."

North Korea had drawn world attention to the launch, which coincided with celebrations surrounding the 100th anniversary of the birth of its late founding leader, Kim Il Sung.

The regime had invited international journalists and space experts to view the launch pad and the satellite, and called the effort "an inspiring deed and an event of historic significance."

The two previous failed rocket launches that Pyongyang said were intended to put satellites into orbit were followed a few weeks or months later by nuclear tests.

"Often when they've had failures of this kind, they reach into their bag and find other things to do," said Christopher Hill, a former lead U.S. negotiator at talks over the North Korean nuclear program who teaches at the University of Denver. "I would be concerned about the potential of an actual nuclear test coming up."

South Korea, which criticized the launch as a "grave provocation," said it was searching the waters near where the rocket fell for debris -- a chance to gain insights into the North's technology.

The White House press secretary, in a statement, said that North Korea's failed launch "threatens regional security, violates international law and contravenes its own recent commitments."

Noriyuki Shikata, a spokesman for Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, said the international ramifications could be significant. "This is something that we think is a regrettable development," he said.

"Our government strongly criticizes their action," said South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Kim Sung-hwan. "They have ignored the starvation of their people and spent money on missiles. It is very unfortunate."

Vitaly Churkin, Russia's U.N. ambassador, said before the launch that Security Council members didn't have a "clear agreement" about what steps to take if the launch were to go ahead. "But one thing I can tell you: We have unanimity of understanding that if it were to happen, that would be a clear violation of two Security Council resolutions."

After the rocket's failure, China, Pyongyang's closest ally, urged the parties involved to "remain calm and exercise restraint, and not do anything that would harm the peace and stability of the peninsula," according to a statement posted on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command officials also tracked the rocket.

"Initial indications are that the first stage of the missile fell into the sea 165 km west of Seoul, South Korea," they said in a news release. "The remaining stages were assessed to have failed and no debris fell on land. At no time were the missile or the resultant debris a threat."

Friday's launch came amid North Korean preparations to mark the centennial of the birth of Kim Il Sung, who ruled the communist state for more than four decades. His birthday on April 15, known as the "Day of the Sun," is a key public holiday.

On Wednesday, North Korea's ruling Workers' Party held a conference that helped firm up the position of Kim's grandson, Kim Jong Un, the secretive state's new leader.

Korean television showed Kim standing near two towering statues -- one of his grandfather and the other of his late father, Kim Jong Il -- as party functionaries and members of the military applauded. Kim Jong Il was given the title of "eternal general secretary" of the Workers' Party, while Kim Jong Un was named the party's first secretary.

The last time Pyongyang carried out what it described as a satellite launch, in April 2009, the U.N. Security Council condemned the action and demanded that it not be repeated.

That rocket traveled 2,300 miles before its third stage fell into the Pacific Ocean. And in 2006, a rocket failed after about 40 seconds in flight.

CNN's Dan Lothian, Adam Aigner-Treworgy, Larry Shaughnessy, Jill Dougherty, Elise Labott, Stan Grant, Barbara Starr, Paula Hancocks, Richard Roth, Judy Kwon and Hilary Whiteman contributed to this report.

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