Seoul/Tokyo, Dec. 12 (Reuters): North Korea successfully launched a rocket today, boosting the credentials of its new leader and stepping up the threat the isolated and impoverished state poses to opponents.
The rocket, which North Korea says put a weather satellite into orbit, has been labelled by the US, South Korea and Japan as a test of technology that could one day deliver a nuclear warhead capable of hitting targets as far away as the continental US.
“The satellite has entered the planned orbit,” a North Korean television news reader clad in traditional Korean garb announced, after which the station played patriotic songs with the lyrics “Chosun (Korea) does what it says”.
The rocket was launched just before 0100GMT, according to defence officials in South Korea and Japan, and was more successful than a rocket launched in April that flew for less than two minutes.
The North American Aerospace Defence Command (Norad) said that it “deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit”, the first time an independent body has verified North Korean claims.
North Korea followed what it said was a similar successful launch in 2009 with a nuclear test that prompted the UN Security Council to stiffen sanctions that it originally imposed in 2006 after the North’s first nuclear test.
North Korea is banned from developing nuclear and missile-related technology under UN resolutions, although Kim Jong-un, the youthful head of state who took power a year ago, is believed to have continued the state’s “military first” programmes put in place by his late father, Kim Jong-il.
North Korea hailed the launch as celebrating the prowess of all three members of the Kim family to rule since it was founded in 1948.
“At a time when great yearnings and reverence for Kim Jong-il pervade the whole country, its scientists and technicians brilliantly carried out his behests to launch a scientific and technological satellite in 2012, the year marking the 100th birth anniversary of President Kim Il Sung,” its KCNA news agency said. Kim Il Sung, the current leader’s grandfather, was North Korea’s first leader.
The US condemned the launch as“ provocative” and a breach of UN rules, while Japan’s UN envoy called for a Security Council meeting. However, diplomats say further tough sanctions are unlikely from the Security Council as China, the North’s only major ally, will oppose them.