North Korea's defiant launch of a long-range rocket has confronted President Barack Obama with his first global security crisis and a difficult diplomatic challenge for his young administration.
U.S. officials reacted quickly and sharply to the launch, saying, as they had warned for weeks, that it was "provocative" and a threat to stability in an already tense region that includes two of America's staunchest Asian allies: Japan and South Korea.
The U.N. Security Council is to meet in emergency session at Japan's request on Sunday, and the White House said U.S. officials would be in close touch with their Japanese and South Korean counterparts prior to the gathering.
"With this provocative act, North Korea has ignored its international obligations, rejected unequivocal calls for restraint, and further isolated itself from the community of nations," Obama said.
"I urge North Korea to abide fully by the resolutions of the U.N. Security Council and to refrain from further provocative actions," he said in a statememt from the Czech Republic, where he is traveling and is to give a speech on nuclear proliferation on Sunday.
The State Department said Washington would take "appropriate steps to let North Korea know that it cannot threaten the safety and security of other countries with impunity." Spokesman Fred Lash did not elaborate on what steps the U.S. might take.
Isolated North Korea is already subject to a wide array of U.S., U.N. and other international sanctions, and Obama warned that the nation would not see better relations with the outside world "unless it abandons its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction."
Diplomats said, however, that the Security Council was unlikely to add to the existing sanctions and would most likely adopt a resolution reinforcing those in place.
Despite weeks of warnings from the United States, Japan, South Korea and others, North Korea launched the Taepodong 2 missile, a three-stage rocket with potential range of more than 4,100 miles, at 10:30 p.m. EDT Saturday, according to the White House and State Department.
The North claims that the missile is a vehicle to launch satellites, but the U.S. and its allies regard satellite and missile technologies as interchangable.
Four hours after the launch, North Korea declared it a success. North Korea says the experimental "Kwangmyongsong-2" communications satellite was sent into orbit in a peaceful bid to develop its space program. The satellite reached outer space in just over nine minutes and was orbiting without any problems, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said in a dispatch from Pyongyang.
A U.N. Security Council resolution bars the country from ballistic missile-related activities of any kind. It was passed in 2006 after North Korea detonated a nuclear device, prompting a flurry of diplomatic activity to get it to abandon its atomic weapons program. The so-called "six-party talks" between China, Japan, Russia, North and South Korea and the United States had made limited progress until stalling last year.
As part of those talks, the Bush administration removed North Korea from a terrorism blacklist. Some lawmakers had called for restoring the designation in the event of a missile launch, but Obama aides say no decision has been made.
And, even as the North prepared for Sunday's launch and international pressure to refrain from the test intensified, the U.S. said it wanted to return to the negotiations.
On Friday, Obama's special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, told reporters in Washington that the country would face consequences if it went ahead, but added that the U.S. would be ready to resume talks after the "dust from the missiles settles."
Yet, the launch will probably complicate efforts to get the negotiations back on track.
"The near-term problem is what impact it will have on the six-party talks," said Jim Walsh, a nuclear proliferation expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the launch was "not conducive to efforts to promote dialogue, regional peace and stability."
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