North Korea defied international warnings and launched a rocket into space Sunday, describing it as a satellite test.
U.S. President Barack Obama, calling for a strong international response, said that the launch could be used to test a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
North Korea claimed that the rocket succeeded in placing a communications satellite in outer space. But the U.S. military, Japan and South Korea said that “no object entered orbit.”
According to North Korea's state-run Korean Central (KCNA), the satellite was transmitting revolutionary music, including a “Song of General Kim Jong Il,” the North Korean dictator.
Speaking during a visit to the Czech Republic, Obama said that “now is the time for a strong response.”
Japan called for an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting, which was scheduled to convene Sunday afternoon in New York.
Diplomats told Reuters that Japan and the United States want the 15-member Security Council to pass a resolution condemning the North Korean launch and calling for tougher enforcement of existing U.N. sanctions against North Korea for a 2006 nuclear test and missile exercises.
No country appeared to be seriously thinking of imposing new sanctions.
China has veto power on the council and has been lukewarm toward the idea of sanctions against North Korea in the past.
In a low-key response, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu called on all sides to “maintain calm and restraint.”
They want to make sure that Obama will not forget them in spite of the economic crisis and Middle East and Afghanistan."
Diplomats said that the Chinese delegation in New York was suggesting that the launch might not constitute a violation of the U.N.’s 2006 resolution.
The United States, Japan, Britain, France, and South Korea are likely to argue that the launch is a violation, because U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718 says that North Korea must abstain from any activity linked to its ballistic missile program.
The launch technology for satellites and ballistic missiles is identical.
Analysts say that Kim Jong Il has several aims in launching a long-range rocket at this time.
The first would be to draw the attention of the new Obama administration and to increase North Korea’s leverage in preparation for the country’s rejoining six-party talks focused on ending the country’s nuclear weapons program.
“They want to make sure that Obama will not forget them in spite of the economic crisis and Middle East and Afghanistan,” said Andrei Lankov, a Russian expert on North Korea, in an interview.
Equally important, according to analysts, is an attempt by Kim to shore up his domestic support following an apparent stroke last year that raised doubts about his ability to rule.
The timing of Sunday’s launch is favorable for Kim, because North Korea will be able to use it to promote his image as a strong leader at an upcoming meeting of North Korea’s parliament, which convenes next Thursday.
Kim Jong Il has held power for more than a decade by perpetuating a feudal-style personality cult and imposing a climate of fear as well as a “military first” policy that favors the country’s armed forces and nuclear weapons program.
North Korea is believed to have earned tens of millions of dollars selling nuclear weapons technology as well as short- and medium-range missiles to nations such as Iran and Syria.
By demonstrating that it can launch an intercontinental missile, North Korea may be able to boost its overseas arms sales.
Military experts caution, however, that North Korea still has a long way to go before it can develop small nuclear warheads that can be fitted onto its missiles.Written by Dan Southerland.