North Korea launched a multistage rocket on Friday, again defying countries that want it to stop pursuing advanced weapons, but it blew up less than two minutes into flight and parts crashed in the Yellow Sea off South Korea, reports The Wall Street Journal.
North Korea acknowledged in an announcement on state TV that a satellite launched from the west coast failed to enter into orbit.
The rocket took off at 7:39 a.m. local time from a new launch facility in the country’s northwest corner and flew south toward Japan’s Ryukyu Islands, the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia.
“The earth observation satellite failed to enter its preset orbit, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said. “Scientists, technicians and experts are now looking into the cause of the failure.”
The leaders of the Group of Eight industrialised nations meeting in Washington, including Russia, were quick to condemn the launch, according to The Telegraph.
The UN Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting for later Friday, and Washington said it was suspending plans to contribute food aid to the North in exchange for a rollback of its nuclear programs.
In a highly unusual move, the North, which still claims success with a 2009 satellite that others say failed, admitted that the satellite had not made it into orbit, Reuters says.
The failure is the first major and very public challenge for the third of the Kim dynasty to rule North Korea just months into the leadership of a man believed to be in his late 20s.
“It blows a big hole in the birthday party,” said Victor Cha, former director for Asia policy in the US National Security Council, contacted in Washington. “It’s terribly embarrassing for the North.”
“It could be indication of subtle change in the North Korean leadership in how they handle these things, something that may be different from the past,” said Baek Seung-joo of the Korea Institute of Defense Analyses a thinktank affiliated with South Korean Defence Ministry.
“I mean it would have been unthinkable for them to admit this kind of failure in the past, something that could be seen as an international humiliation. The decision to have come out with the admission had to come from Kim Jong-un.”
The United States, Japan, Russia and other countries urged North Korea to call off the launch. According to experts, the Unha-3 carrier is the same type of rocket that would be used to strike the US and other targets with a long-range missile.
But North Korea refused to back down, saying the rocket would only carry a civilian satellite, touting it as a major technological achievement to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung, on Sunday.
North Korea is now expected to press ahead with its third nuclear test to show its military strength.
“The possibility of an additional long-range rocket launch or a nuclear test, as well as a military provocation to strengthen internal solidarity is very high,” a senior South Korean defense ministry official told a parliamentary hearing.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that despite the failure, North Korea’s “provocative action threatens regional security, violates international law and contravenes its own recent commitments.”
A senior administration official said that the failure of the latest launch shows that the North Korean missile program hasn’t advanced since its last launch attempt in 2009, welcome news to U.S. officials.
“They’re not moving forward. If anything they’re stuck in place or moved backwards,” he said. “It does demonstrate that they are not advancing their ballistic missile technology.”