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Obama, others condemn North Korea rocket launch

PRAGUE, Czech Republic — North Korea defied international warnings and test-fired a long-range rocket early Sunday morning, drawing swift condemnation from President Barack Obama and other world leaders.

The Taepodong-2 rocket, which Pyongyang says was part of a civilian space launch program, flew over Japan, with debris falling into the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean, the U.S. Northern Command said.

The rocket failed to put a satellite into orbit, the command said in a statement. That conflicted with the account from the North's state-controlled Korean Central News Agency, which said it had successfully orbited an experimental satellite.

The United States, Japan and South Korea saw the launch as the latest provocation from the isolated North Korean regime, and it stoked fears that the North's ultimate ambition is to have an intercontinental missile that can carry a nuclear warhead.

The U.N. Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting for Sunday afternoon to debate an international response.

It seemed doubtful, however, whether the council would agree to any new sanctions on North Korea, diplomats said. China, in particular, is cool to additional sanctions.

A statement of condemnation and a call to reinforce existing sanctions seemed a more likely outcome.

China issued a statement Sunday urging all sides to remain calm.

"We wish relevant parties to maintain cool-headedness and restraint, appropriately deal with the situation and jointly maintain regional peace and stability." Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a statement posted on the ministry's website.

Obama denounced North Korea's action, which partially eclipsed a major speech he gave Sunday in the Czech capital on reducing nuclear arsenals and combating the threat of global weapons proliferation.

"North Korea made a launch this morning that defies U.N. Security Council resolutions, that harms peace and stability for northeast Asia," Obama said at the opening of a meeting with the president of the Czech Republic.

"North Korea's development of a ballistic missile capability, regardless of the stated purpose of this launch, is aimed at providing it with the ability to threaten countries near and far with weapons of mass destruction," Obama said. "This action demands a response from the international community, including from the United Nations Security Council, to demonstrate that its resolution cannot be defied with impunity."

The United States, Japan and South Korea say that the launch violates U.N. Security Council resolution 1718, passed in October 2006 in the aftermath of North Korea's underground nuclear test that month. The resolution demands that North Korea "not conduct any further nuclear test or launch of a ballistic missile."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in Prague with the president, called her counterparts from Japan, China and Russia to coordinate a response, a State Department official said. The official requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for the record.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told ABC News' "This Week" program that North Korea's launch "underscore(s) our concern about its development of not only nuclear weapons capability but the capability to deliver. That's what we are most concerned about preventing, and preventing North Korea from sharing that capability with others."

Aides to Obama said they woke him shortly after the launch was confirmed at 4:30 a.m. Prague time, and that he consulted with military and intelligence advisers through the morning.

"Had at any moment we determined that this launch posed a threat to the United States of America, we would have taken whatever steps were necessary to ensure the safety and security of the American people," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

Obama had long scheduled a speech for Prague on his broad vision for cutting and eliminating the nuclear threat. But he said the North Korean launch underscored his message, first to maintain a U.S. nuclear deterrent as long as anyone poses a threat, but then to rid of the world of the threat altogether.

"This morning, we were reminded again why we need a new and more rigorous approach to address this threat. North Korea broke the rules once more by testing a rocket that could be used for a long-range missile," he said in the speech.

"This provocation underscores the need for action, not just ... at the U.N. Security Council, but in our determination to prevent the spread of these weapons. Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something."

(Strobel reported from Washington. Tim Johnson contributed from Beijing.)


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