U.S. Watches for North Korea’s Next Move after Rocket Launch Failed

The United States to keep eye on North Korea after the unsuccessful launch of satellite.

President Barack Obama talks on the phone with President-elect Vladimir Putin of Russia while aboard Air Force One en route to Richmond, Va., March 9, 2012. Alice Wells, Senior Director for Russian Affairs, is seated at right. Photo: Pete Souza/The Official White House

The White House suspended significant food provision aid to North Korea after the rocket launch, which it had warned Pyongyang against. U.S. officials also consulted other powers, including North Korean ally China, on how to respond, writes Reuters.

Obama said he was concerned by North Korea’s move, which violated U.N. Security Council resolutions, although he noted that “they’ve been trying to launch missiles like this for over a decade now and they don’t seem to be real good at it.”

“We will continue to keep the pressure on them and they’ll continue to isolate themselves until they take a different path,” the President said in an interview.

Yesterday the US and Japan announced that the satellite launch failed as the rocket crashed into the sea after traveling a much shorter distance than a previous North Korean launch.

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.

A U.S. official warned that Pyongyang would face further sanctions if it defied the international community one more time.

“If they continue to take additional provocative actions, we of course have to continue to look at ways in which we could tighten sanctions on the North Koreans, and take additional steps to apply pressure on the regime,” White House National Security Council spokesman Ben Rhodes said.

The Pentagon also reported that it was keeping an eye on North Korea. “It’s not just about missiles. It’s about other things that they have and might do,” Pentagon spokesman George Little revealed, adding he could not confirm any underground nuclear test preparations in North Korea.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed the rocket launch failure on Friday with China’s foreign minister, Yang Jiechi. “We’re asking them to use their relationship with North Korea to convey our concern about their recent actions,” spokesman Mark Toner said.

Beijing, while highlighting it didn’t approve North Korea’s behavior, generally opposes sanctions and other measures it sees as confrontational.

Jack Pritchard, president of the Korea Economic Institute and a former U.S. nuclear negotiator, suggested that Pyongyang would need a “spectacular achievement to overcome the national embarrassment it finds itself in now.”

“What that means is that it is now much more likely that North Korea will move forward with its third nuclear test,” he said.

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said it was likely the principal reason for the launch was to consolidate the authority of its new leader, Kim.

“There is thus a real risk that he will turn to a tried and true path to accomplish the same ends. If history is any guide, this suggests that a test of a nuclear warhead or some sort of aggressive military action – for example, an artillery strike – against South Korea could be in the offing,” he said.

“And if this latter scenario occurs, South Korea, unlike on previous occasions, is almost certain to retaliate,” Haass wrote on CFR’s blog.

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