No object entered orbit, the North American Aerospace Defense Command said Sunday, after North Korea claimed it had launched a satellite.
North Korea launched a long-range rocket Sunday, and called it a successful, peaceful launch of a satellite. But U.S. and South Korean officials called it a provocative act, amid international fears that the launch could be a missile with a warhead attached.
International reaction to reports of the launch — which took place at about 11:30 a.m. local time — ranged from calls for an immediate U.N. Security Council meeting to calls for measured diplomacy.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command, the U.S. and a Canadian organization that monitors space activity released a statement about the launch.
“Officials acknowledged today that North Korea launched a Taepo Dong 2 missile at 10:30 p.m. EDT Saturday, which passed over the Sea of Japan and the nation of Japan,” the statement said. “Stage one of the missile fell into the Sea of Japan. The remaining stages along with the payload itself landed in the Pacific Ocean. No object entered orbit and no debris fell on Japan.”
But North Korean and Russian officials said the communist nation successfully launched a satellite in orbit, according to the nations’ news agencies.
A statement on the Russia Foreign Ministry’s official Web site Sunday, attributed to spokesman Andrei Nesterenko, said: “North Korea sent an artificial satellite into an earth orbit on the morning of April 5. The parameters of the satellite’s orbit are being specified now.”
North Korea’s news agency said: “Scientists and technicians of the DPRK have succeeded in putting satellite Kwangmyongsong-2, an experimental communications satellite, into orbit by means of carrier rocket Unha-2 under the state long-term plan for the development of outer space.”
* U.S. condemns ‘provocative act’
* N. Korea defends right to ‘explore space’
* World reacts to launch of rocket
* In-depth: North Korea: Nuclear tension
South Korean Foreign Minister Yoo Myung-Hwan said Sunday: “For the time being it is believed that North Korea launched a satellite. But we have yet to determine whether it was a success or not.”
U.S. President Barack Obama had harsh words about the launch. Read Obama’s full comments
“With this provocative act, North Korea has ignored its international obligations, rejected unequivocal calls for restraint, and further isolated itself from the community of nations,” Obama said in a statement after the launch.
“We will immediately consult with our allies in the region, including Japan and (South Korea), and members of the U.N. Security Council to bring this matter before the Council,” Obama added. “I urge North Korea to abide fully by the resolutions of the U.N. Security Council and to refrain from further provocative actions.”
The council scheduled a meeting for Sunday afternoon after Japan’s representative to the United Nations, Yukio Takasu, sent a letter requesting an urgent meeting in response to the launch. Read world reaction to rocket launch
A spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he “regrets that, against strong international appeal, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) went ahead with its planned launch. Given the volatility in the region, as well as a stalemate in interaction among the concerned parties, such a launch is not conducive to efforts to promote dialogue, regional peace and stability.”
Chinese and Russian officials had a softer response, calling for restraint and calm.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura told reporters after the launch that the country’s military was not forced to intercept any missile, which it had pledged to do if necessary. Preliminary data show that two objects, possibly boosters from the rocket, apparently fell around Japan, one in the Sea of Japan and one in the Pacific Ocean.
“They are breathing a sigh of relief,” CNN correspondent Kyung Lah said. A senior Obama administration official in Washington confirmed that the rocket did clear Japan.
Japanese ships were moving Sunday to the area they believe the rocket parts fell in an effort to retrieve them, government officials said.
Still, Kawamura said his government’s position is that even a communications satellite would be in violation of the Security Council resolution, saying Japan “formally denounces” the move.
The rocket was a “provocative act in violation” of a U.N. Security Council resolution on North Korea’s weapons program, Fred Lash, a State Department spokesman, told reporters.
An October 2006 resolution condemned North Korea for missile launches in the summer and a nuclear test that same month
“We don’t know anything on whether it had an orbital configuration,” Lash said about whether the rocket might have carried a satellite. “There is nothing confirmed.”
Retired Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, the former director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, told CNN that the launch apparently involved a “multi-stage rocket,” with possibly up to three stages, referring to reports that debris fell off the waters of Japan.
“That means it was able to go through the staging event,” signaling success in the rocket reaching long-range capability.
The office of the South Korean president condemned the launch Sunday, calling it a “serious threat” to world peace, the state-sponsored Yonhap news agency reported.
“We cannot withhold our regrets and disappointment that North Korea has caused such a serious threat to peace on the Korean Peninsula and in the world by firing a long-range rocket when the entire world is joining efforts to overcome the global economic crisis,” Lee Dong-kwan, a presidential spokesman said, according to Yonhap.
The Obama administration’s special envoy to the Six-Party Talks, Stephen Bosworth, said last week that it didn’t matter if the North Koreans were trying to put a satellite in space or testing a ballistic missile that could threaten Japan or the United States. “Whether it is a satellite launch or a missile launch, in our judgment makes no difference. It is a provocative act,” Bosworth said.
Bosworth said the U.S. stands ready — after a launch — to participate in U.N. deliberations on new sanctions against North Korea, and will be “working very closely with our partners to ensure that after the dust of the missiles settles a bit, we get back to the longer-term priority of the missile — of the Six-Party Talks.”
He added that in his experience in dealing with North Koreans “you have to combine pressure with incentives.”
U.S. Rep. Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a statement late Saturday and said: “The test is an unnecessary provocation that raises tensions in the region, and I urge the North Koreans to stop using their missile and WMD programs to threaten their neighbors and the rest of the world.”