David Guttenfelder, Associated Press
PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea's much-anticipated rocket launch ended quickly in failure early Friday, splintering into pieces over the Yellow Sea soon after takeoff.
North Korea acknowledged in a noon announcement broadcast on state TV that a satellite launched hours earlier from the west coast failed to enter into orbit. The U.S. and South Korea also declared the launch a failure.
World leaders were swift to denounce the launch, calling it a covert test of missile technology and a flagrant violation of international resolutions prohibiting North Korea from developing its nuclear and missile programs.
The leaders of the Group of Eight industrialized nations meeting in Washington, including Russia, condemned the launch. The U.N. Security Council, meanwhile, scheduled an emergency meeting for later Friday, and Washington said it was suspending plans to contribute food aid to the North in exchange for a rollback of its nuclear programs.
North Korea had announced weeks earlier that scientists would launch a long-range rocket mounted with an observational satellite, touting it as a major technological achievement to mark the upcoming 100th anniversary of the birth of the country's founder, Kim Il Sung.
The United States, Russia, Japan and others urged North Korea to call off the launch widely seen abroad as a covert test of missile technology. Experts say the Unha-3 carrier is the same type of rocket that would be used to strike the U.S. and other targets with a long-range missile.
North Korea has tested two atomic devices but is not believed to have mastered the technology needed to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile.
Space officials in Pyongyang refused to back down, telling reporters earlier in the week that it is North Korea's "sovereign right" to develop its space program.
State media said the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite was fired from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in Tongchang-ri along the west coast at 7:38 a.m. Friday.
"The earth observation satellite failed to enter its preset orbit, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said. "Scientists, technicians and experts are now looking into the cause of the failure."
North Korean space officials said the Unha-3, or Galaxy-3, rocket was meant to send a satellite into orbit to study crops and weather patterns — its third bid to launch a satellite since 1998. Officials took foreign journalists to the west coast site to see the rocket and the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite Sunday in a bid to show its transparency amid accusations of defiance.
The acknowledgment of the rocket's failure — both to the outside world and to North Koreans — was a surprising admission by a government that in the past has kept tight control over information. However, dozens of foreign journalists invited to cover the launch were not allowed to view the liftoff live.
North Korea had staked its pride on the satellite, seeing it as a show of strength amid persistent economic hardship while Kim Il Sung's young grandson, Kim Jong Un, solidifies power following the death of his father, longtime leader Kim Jong Il, four months ago.
"It blows a big hole in the birthday party," said Victor Cha, former director for Asia policy in the U.S. National Security Council, contacted in Washington. "It's terribly embarrassing for the North."
He said the next step would be to watch whether North Korea conducts a nuclear test, as has been speculated by the South Korean intelligence community. North Korea reportedly is making preparations for such a test.
"We have to watch very carefully what they are doing now at the nuclear test site and how they explain this with all those foreign journalists in the country," Cha said.
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