The U.N. Security Council met behind closed doors Friday morning to discuss the launch by North Korea of a missile that the United States charges was a violation of U.N. resolutions.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said the launch "is in direct violation" of Security Council sanctions "and threatens regional stability," spokesman Martin Nesirky said. The White House called the launch a "provocative action" that threatens stability in the region.
The missile disintegrated over the Yellow Sea but showed that North Korea under new leader Kim Jong Un is again ignoring pressure from the USA and neighboring countries to end its missile program and may refuse to abide by sanctions against its nuclear program as well.
Although the rocket failure allows Japan, South Korea and the United States to conclude that North Korea's "technological standards are not so high," there is now a greater risk they will proceed with another nuclear test, said Masao Okonogi, a Korean specialist at Kyushu University in southern Japan.
For Pyongyang, "it's more necessary and likely as they must recover the situation and the fallen prestige" of the new leader, he said.
The U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions against North Korea after its first nuclear test in 2006 and stepped up sanctions after its second test in 2009. North Korea has tested two atomic devices but is not yet believed to be able to build a nuclear warhead small enough to be mounted on a long-range missile.
The Obama administration struck a deal in February with North Korea in which the reclusive nation agreed to halt the country's missile program in return for U.S. food aid assistance. The North had said the launch would not violate the deal because it was an attempt to put a satellite in orbit and not to test a ballistic missile capable of striking the United States.
The White House said Thursday that the shipment of 240,000 tons of food would be suspended because of the attempted launch.
The launch was first reported to have occurred by the government of South Korea, and it was soon thereafter confirmed by U.S. missile tracking systems. But Western reporters in Pyongyang who were uninvited to report on the event were not told of its failure until four hours later on state television.
North Korea had hailed the launch as a moment of national pride and described it as a scientific achievement and even a gift for its late founder, Kim Il Sung, two days before the 100th anniversary of his birth.
Okonogi said the public failure "will impact the prestige of Kim Jung Un," who only took power after the death in December of his father, longtime dictator Kim Jong Il. But other analysts said the North will handle the failure far differently that the West views it.
"North Korea will portray it as a success, as they did in 1988 and 2008, because this is a very important project for the centenary of the birth of their founder," said Tong Kim, an international relations expert at Korea University in Seoul, the South Korean capital, and adjunct professor at SAIS Johns Hopkins University.
"North Korea again defied all warnings and international pressure and there was no Chinese persuasion," said Tong. Although North Korea has a new leader, "we are still stuck in a vicious cycle, of provocation, then negotiation and some agreement, then the North walks away from that agreement, and the cycle begins again," he said.
"Most important now is how we can manage this situation to at least prevent some military clashes," said Tong. North Korea will have learned from this failure and can improve its missile technology, he said.
The big question remains whether North Korea will follow this attempt with a third nuclear test in the coming months, he said. The international community can influence that decision, he said.
But too strong a reaction from the United Nations Security Council, set to meet Friday, could make North Korea more determined to go ahead with a nuclear test, warned Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at People's University in Beijing.
Although China is the North's only significant ally, Shi hoped Beijing will join a U.N. condemnation of the launch, and, in addition, suspend recently promised food assistance. Such action, which Shi expected would not be publicly declared, "could express China's anger and be a warning that 'if you do worse, you can expect a further worsening of relations with Beijing.' "
Ordinary Chinese were ambivalent about the missile launch of its neighbor.
"I don't think North Korea will listen to any other country's advice, including China's," said Wang Weifeng, 64, a retired math teacher, taking a morning walk Friday in Beijing. "If the economy is weak, the people in the country can't live a happy life, although such a launch could lift people's spirits for a short time. But, as an independent country, I believe they have the right to launch their own rockets."
In downtown Pyongyang, university student Kim Kwang Jin was sanguine about the news.
"I'm not too disappointed. There was always the chance of failure," he said. "Other nations — including China and Russia — have had failures while building their space programs so why wouldn't we? I hope that in the future, we're able to build a better satellite."
Greg Thielmann, a former intelligence officer with the U.S. State Department, said it now appears the North Koreans haven't mastered the technology they need to control multistage rockets — a key capability if the North is to threaten the United States with intercontinental ballistic missiles.
State media said the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite was fired from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in the hamlet of Tongchang-ri but "failed to enter its preset orbit."
"Scientists, technicians and experts are now looking into the cause of the failure," the state-run Korean Central News Agency said.
North Korean space officials said the Unha-3, or Galaxy-3, rocket was meant to send a satellite into orbit to study crops and weather patterns — its third bid to launch a satellite since 1998. Officials had earlier brought foreign journalists to the west coast site to see the rocket and the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite Sunday in a bid to show its transparency amid accusations of defiance.
U.S. Navy minesweepers and other ships in the area were expected to begin scouring the sea for debris from the rocket, which can offer evidence of what went wrong and what rocket technology North Korea has.
The failure did not halt celebrations honoring Kim Jong Un's father. At a massive gathering today in Pyongyang, Kim Jong Un and other senior officials watched the unveiling of an enormous new statue of Kim Jong Il, which stood beside an equally large statue of Kim Il Sung. Kim Il Sung is the grandfather of Kim Jong Un and the creator of the North Korean state.