By JEAN H. LEE, Associated Press
PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — A satellite launch North Korea had hailed as a moment of national pride ended in failure Friday when the rocket disintegrated over the Yellow Sea, earning Pyongyang embarrassment as well as condemnation from a host of nations that deemed it a covert test of missile technology.
The launch is a setback for new leader Kim Jong Un, whose government had projected the satellite as a show of strength amid North Korea's persistent economic hardship. Kim is solidifying power following the death of his father, longtime leader Kim Jong Il, four months ago.
The U.N. Security Council said it deplores the launch, saying it violated two council resolutions.
In a rare move, Pyongyang acknowledged that the rocket did not deliver a satellite, but it also pressed ahead with grandiose propaganda in praise of the ruling Kim family.
The United States and South Korea declared the early morning launch a failure minutes after the rocket shot out from the North's west coast. North Korea acknowledged that some four hours later in an announcement broadcast on state TV, saying the satellite that the rocket was carrying did not enter orbit.
North Korea had held up the launch as a scientific achievement and even a gift for its late founder, Kim Il Sung, two days before the 100th anniversary of his birth. It pressed ahead even as world leaders vowed to take action in the U.N. Security Council against what they called a flagrant violation of international resolutions prohibiting North Korea from developing its nuclear and missile programs.
The rocket's destruction suggests the country has yet to master the technology needed to build long-range missiles that could threaten the United States. Still, worries remain about North Korea's nuclear program amid reports that it may be planning an atomic test soon.
Kim Jong Un has been given several important titles intended to strengthen his rule this week. Hours after the failed launch, state media said he was named first chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission during a meeting of the Supreme People's Assembly.
Kim Jong Il, who ruled the country in his capacity as chairman of the commission, was given the title of "chairman for eternity."
Outsiders, meanwhile, focused on the launch, which was condemned by the foreign ministers of the Group of Eight industrialized nations meeting in Washington, including Russia.
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 U.N.'s most powerful body, the Security Council, said in a brief press statement after a closed meeting on Friday that members agreed to continue consultations "on an appropriate response."
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, the current council president, refused to speculate on whether a response might include new sanctions against North Korea. The council imposed sanctions against North Korea after its first nuclear test in 2006 and stepped up sanctions after its second test in 2009.
"We think a credible reaction is important," Rice said.
Washington said it was suspending plans to contribute food aid to the North in exchange for a rollback of its nuclear programs.
White House spokesman Jay Carney also said on Thursday before the launch that "the clear violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions that a launch of a ballistic missile would represent makes it virtually impossible for us to go ahead with" the agreed-upon package of food aid to North Korea.
The Obama administration believes U.S. sanctions against North Korea, particularly on its ability to obtain advanced electronics for guidance systems, have restricted its proliferation activities.
North Korea had announced weeks earlier that it would launch a long-range rocket mounted with an observational satellite, touting it as a major technological achievement to mark the centennial of the birth of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un's grandfather.
The failure "blows a big hole in the birthday party," said Victor Cha, former director for Asia policy in the U.S. National Security Council. "It's terribly embarrassing for the North."
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."