Failed launch is setback for NKorea's new leader

By Jean H. Lee

Associated Press

Published: Friday, April 13 2012 2:20 p.m. MDT

North Korean press center worker are surrounded by international journalists trying to gather news on the launch inside a hotel press center set up in Pyongyang, North Korea, Friday, April 13, 2012. North Korea fired a long-range rocket early Friday, South Korean defense officials said, defying international warnings against a launch widely seen as a provocation.

David Guttenfelder, Associated Press

PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea's much-touted satellite launch ended in a nearly $1 billion failure, bringing humiliation to the country's new young leader and condemnation from a host of nations. The United Nations Security Council deplored the launch but stopped short of imposing new penalties in response.

The satellite's disintegration Friday over the Yellow Sea brought a rare public acknowledgment of failure from Pyongyang, which had hailed the launch as a show of strength amid North Korea's persistent economic hardship.

For the 20-something Kim Jong Un it was to have been a highlight of the celebratory events surrounding his ascension to top political power. It was timed to coincide with the country's biggest holiday in decades, the 100th birthday of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, the young leader's grandfather.

The United States and South Korea declared the early morning launch a failure minutes after the rocket shot out from the North's west coast. North Korea acknowledged its demise four hours later in an announcement broadcast on state TV, saying the satellite the rocket was carrying did not enter orbit.

The launch brought swift international condemnation, including the suspension of U.S. food aid, and raised concerns that the North's next move could be even more provocative — a nuclear test, the country's third.

The U.N. Security Council denounced the launch as a violation of two resolutions that prohibit North Korea from developing its nuclear and missile programs, and met behind closed doors to consider a response. U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, the current council president, refused to speculate on what action the council might take. The council imposed sanctions on North Korea after its first nuclear test in 2006 and stepped up sanctions after its second in 2009.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a former South Korean foreign minister, called the launch "deplorable" and urged North Korea "not to undertake any further provocative actions that will heighten tension in the region," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

Despite Friday's failed launch, Pyongyang pressed ahead with grandiose propaganda in praise of the ruling Kim family.

Hours after the explosion, the young Kim was installed as the new head of the powerful National Defense Commission during a meeting of the Supreme People's Assembly in Pyongyang. It was the last of the top military and party posts intended to consolidate his power after the death of his father, longtime leader Kim Jong Il, four months ago.

At a massive gathering later Friday, Kim Jong Un and other senior officials watched the unveiling of an enormous new statue of Kim Jong Il, which stood beside an equally massive one of Kim Il Sung.

North Korea had trumpeted the launch of its Kwangmyongsong, or Bright Shining Star, satellite as a scientific achievement and a gift for its late founder. It cost the impoverished nation some $850 million, according to South Korea's Yonhap new agency, which estimated the cost of the rocket and its payload alone at $450 million.

In downtown Pyongyang, university student Kim Kwang Jin was optimistic despite Friday's failure.

"I'm not too disappointed. There was always the chance of failure," he said. "Other nations — including China and Russia — have had failures while building their space programs so why wouldn't we? I hope that in the future, we're able to build a better satellite."

The rocket's destruction suggests the country has yet to master the technology needed to build long-range missiles that could threaten the United States. Still, worries remain about North Korea's nuclear program amid reports that it may be planning an atomic test soon.

The launch was condemned by the foreign ministers of the Group of Eight industrialized nations meeting in Washington, including Russia, while Washington said it was suspending plans to contribute food aid to the North in exchange for a rollback of its nuclear programs.

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