North Koreans Launch Rocket Over the Pacific
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea defied the United States, China and a series of United Nations resolutions by launching a rocket on Sunday that the country said was designed to propel a satellite into space, but that much of the world viewed as an effort to prove it is edging toward the capability to shoot a nuclear warhead on a longer-range missile.
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North Korea launched the rocket at 11:30 a.m. local time, or 10:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, said the office of the South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak. Early reports from the Japanese prime minister’s office indicated that the three-stage rocket appeared to launch successfully, with the first stage falling into the Sea of Japan and the second stage into the Pacific. South Korea vowed a “stern and resolute” response to the North’s “reckless act.”
South Korean officials, after studying the rocket’s trajectory, said it appeared to have been configured to thrust a satellite into orbit, as the North had claimed.
No debris was reported to have fallen on Japanese land. There has been no confirmation of whether the third and final stage of the launching took place.
But what may have mattered most to North Korea was simply demonstrating that it had the ability to launch a multistage rocket that could travel thousands of miles.
The motivation for the test appeared as much political as technological: After acquiring the fuel for six or more nuclear weapons during the Bush administration, and negotiating a halt of its main nuclear reactor in return for aid, North Korea’s recent statements appear to be a bid for attention from the Obama administration.
The Japanese government strongly protested the launching over its territory and asked for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council.
Lee Dong-kwan, a spokesman for the South Korean president, said, “North Korea’s launch of its long-range rocket poses a serious threat to the stability of the Korean Peninsula and the rest of the world at a time when the entire world is pulling its wisdom together to overcome the global economic crisis.”
Over the years the North has sometimes conducted tests as a gambit to extract concessions for more aid and fuel and to demonstrate its nuclear capabilities.
Manufacturing a nuclear warhead that is small enough, light enough and heat-resistant enough to be mounted atop a missile is far more complex than building a basic nuclear device — and intelligence officials and outside experts believe North Korea is still years from that accomplishment. Typically, it takes many years of experimentation for a nation to learn how to shrink an ungainly test device into a slim warhead.
Nonetheless, the series of tests in recent years — in 2006 and 1998 — is prompting fears of North Korean proliferation among Japanese, Chinese and Western leaders. North Korea’s missiles have ranked among its few profitable exports — Iran, Syria and Pakistan have all been among its major customers. If this long-range test ends up a success, it would presumably make the design far more attractive on the international black market.
The launching provides one of the first tests of Mr. Obama’s reaction to a provocation, on the weekend that he is scheduled to lay out for the first time, in a speech in Prague, his strategy to counter proliferation threats.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has ruled out any effort to shoot down the missile if the mission appeared to be a serious effort to launch a satellite. Rather, Mr. Obama’s top aides said during last week’s Group of 20 summit meeting in London that if the missile were launched, they would seek additional sanctions against the country in the United Nations Security Council, perhaps as early as this weekend.
President Bush pressed for similar sanctions after the North’s nuclear test in October 2006, but those sanctions had little long-term effect.
“We have made very clear to the North Koreans that their missile launch is provocative,” Mr. Obama said Friday after meeting with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France in Strasbourg, France. Mr. Obama took the issue up on Wednesday in London with President Hu Jintao of China.
While Washington has signaled calm, the Japanese response has been unusually strong. Japan deployed ships into the Sea of Japan and suggested it would try to shoot down any “debris” from the launching that threatened to hit the country. However, there is no evidence they tried to do so, and on Saturday, to the embarassment of the Japanese military, the country falsely reported twice that the missile had been launched.
With the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, reportedly recovering from a stroke last summer, the missile test may also be an effort by him — or some in the military — to demonstrate that someone is firmly in control and that the country’s missile and nuclear programs are forging ahead. In recent times top American intelligence officials have told Congress they believe Mr. Kim is back in charge of the country, but they admit considerable mystery surrounds the question of whether he has regained all of his faculties.
Stephen W. Bosworth, Mr. Obama’s special envoy on North Korea, told reporters that while the United States would seek to punish the North for the test, it was also prepared to resume six-nation talks with North Korea to persuade it to give up its nuclear weapons program. “We must deal with North Korea as we find it, not as we would like it to be,” Mr. Bosworth said.
In addition to Japan, South Korea, which is in easy reach of North Korean missiles, deployed navy ships with missile tracking radar near North Korea.
But President Lee, too, emphasized that the six-party talks should resume.
North Korea tried and failed to loft satellites in 1998 and again in 2006.
Western aerospace experts said the new North Korean rocket appeared to be fairly large — much bigger than the one Iran fired in February to launch a small satellite, and about the same size as China launched in 1970 in its space debut.
David C. Wright, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a private group in Cambridge, Mass., said the North Korean rocket might be able to lift a small satellite of 220 pounds into an orbit some 250 miles high. If used as a ballistic missile, he added, the rocket might throw a warhead of 2,200 pounds to a distance of some 3,700 miles — far enough to hit parts of Alaska.
Western analysts agree that North Korea’s missile launching is a military endeavor, despite its payload of an experimental communications satellite and its cocoon of North Korean propaganda. Starting with Sputnik in 1957, most of the world’s intercontinental ballistic missiles began life as satellite launchers.
Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence, told reporters in March that “North Korea is attempting to demonstrate an ICBM capability through a space launch.”
While many analysts have looked at the launching through a military lens, some say another perspective involves political rivalries on the Korean peninsula. For years, South Korea has been gearing up to fire a satellite into orbit and join the space club. Its spaceport of Oinarodo is nearly ready, but a launching scheduled for this month was delayed, giving North Korea an opening.
“They’re racing to beat the South Koreans,” said Tim Brown, a senior fellow at GlobalSecurity.org, a private group in Alexandria, Va.
南韓總統府青瓦台宣布，北韓在當地時間今天上午11時30分15秒（台北時間為今天早上10時30分15秒）發射了一枚長程火箭，並獲得美國國務院確認， 日本政府也立刻在11時32分發出簡訊，宣布北韓已發射疑似長程彈道飛彈的飛行物。日本防衛省官員透露，在日本海執行任務的海上自衛隊神盾艦開始探測並追 蹤從北韓發射的飛行物，但未進行攔截。
美國衛星立刻監測到發射的火箭，日本政府說，北韓發射的火箭通過日本東北地區上空，火箭第一節上午11時37分（台北時間10時37分）落在日本海，第二 節於11時43分（台北時間10時43分）落在日本以東1270公里的太平洋海域。日本首相府為北韓發射計畫特別成立的「危機處理中心」在今天上午11時 32分立刻傳出北韓發射行動的電子郵件警訊。