UNITED NATIONS – The UN Security Council condemned North Korea’s rogue rocket launch Wednesday, December 12, and the United States started pressing China to agree punitive action against its ally.
North Korea took a defiant stance against international fury over its launch however and China signaled it was reluctant to take tough new measures.
The UN Security Council held emergency talks after the North, already under international sanctions for nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, ignored pleas from friends and foes and went ahead with a rocket launch that it said put a satellite into space.
“Members of the Security Council condemned this launch, which is a clear violation of Security Council resolutions 1718 and 1874,” said a statement released after the meeting.
The council highlighted a warning made after a failed launch in April that it could take “action” if there was a new attempt.
“Members of the Security Council will continue consultations on an appropriate response,” said the statement.
The United States said there had to be “consequences” for the breach of UN resolutions. US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said talks would start straight away on international action.
China’s UN ambassador Li Baodong resisted harder hitting language in the statement, diplomats at the closed meeting said.
Li opposed mentioning in the statement that the North had used “ballistic missile technology” but eventually gave in after pressure from Rice, the diplomats said.
He also argued that there was no reason to condemn China, the envoys added.
In Beijing, the Chinese government responded relatively quickly by expressing “regret” and pressing the country to abide by UN resolutions.
But in a commentary, state news agency Xinhua also decried “bellicose rhetoric and gestures” and defended North Korea’s right to explore space.
It called on all sides to avoid “stoking the flames.”
The United States immediately pressed the need for action against the North when US undersecretary of defense Jim Miller met with Lieutenant General Qi Jianguo, deputy chief of staff of the Chinese army in Washington.
Miller “urged China to work with the United States and the international community to insist that North Korea live up to its commitments,” said a US statement.
The launch shows that “North Korea is determined to pursue its ballistic missile program without regard for it international obligations,” Rice told reporters.
“Members of the council must now work in a concerted fashion to send North Korea a clear message that its violations of UN Security Council resolutions have consequences,” she added.
North Korea fired the rocket just days before its young ruler, Kim Jong-Un, marks 12 months in power.
North Korea insisted the mission was not a banned inter-continental missile test but carried a scientific satellite into space.
The satellite went into orbit “as planned,” the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said. “People’s hearts are racing with excitement,” the state agency added.
The rocket set alarm bells ringing in Japan and South Korea, which put their militaries on alert.
Virtually every country has condemned the North. The launch was a “clear violation” of a 2009 UN Security Council resolution which bans North Korea from using ballistic missile technology, according to UN leader Ban Ki-moon.
Russia labeled Pyongyang’s defiance of UN resolutions “unacceptable” and warned the launch would have a “negative effect” on regional stability, while the European Union threatened new sanctions.
Masao Okonogi, a professor of Korean politics at Keio University in Japan, said the launch would thrust North Korea close to the top of the national security agenda for President Barack Obama.
“Putting a satellite into orbit means that you have technology to get a warhead to a targeted area. Now, North Korea is becoming not only a threat to the neighboring countries but also a real threat to the United States,” he said.
But the North said it would ignore international warnings. “We will continue to exercise our legitimate right to launch satellites,” said a foreign ministry spokesman.
The country’s leader Kim Jong-Un, who is in his late 20s, was believed to be keen that the launch fall close to the first anniversary of the death of his father and former leader Kim Jong-Il on December 17.
A previous launch of the same Unha-3 rocket in April ended in embarrassing failure, with the carrier exploding shortly after take-off. – Tim Witcher, Agence France-Presse