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UN Divided Over North Korea Rocket Launch

SEOUL/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -- The United Nations failed to agree a response to North Korea's rocket launch despite pressure from Washington and its allies for action, showing the reclusive state had succeeded in dividing the international community.

Analysts said the April 5 launch of the rocket, which flew over Japan, was effectively a test of a ballistic missile designed to carry a warhead as far as the U.S. state of Alaska.

South Korean and Japanese financial markets shrugged off the news on April 6. Seoul's main share index was up over 1 percent while the won currency was stronger against the dollar as investors cheered Wall Street's gains last week.

Shares in Japan also traded higher in the morning, with the Nikkei index up over 1.6 percent.

Japan had called for the emergency UN Security Council meeting. But after a session lasting three hours, the 15 members agreed only to discuss the matter further, diplomats said.

The United States, Japan, and South Korea say the launch violated council resolutions banning the firing of ballistic missiles by Pyongyang, imposed after a nuclear test and other missile exercises in 2006.

Council diplomats said China, the nearest North Korea has to a major ally, and Russia were not convinced the launch of what North Korea said was a satellite constituted a violation of UN rules. Three other countries supported this view.

"It's 10 against five," one diplomat told Reuters.

The U.S. military and South Korea said nothing from the Taepodong-2 rocket entered orbit.

Wringing Concessions

North Korea for years has tried to drive a wedge between regional powers that have engaged it in security and disarmament talks. Analysts say it thrives on brinkmanship and uses its military threat to wring concessions.

U.S. analysts expect an emboldened North Korea to try to exact concessions for showing up at any future round of six-party talks on ending its nuclear program and to seek to water down obligations it signed onto under previous negotiations.

The launch could also have implications for security in North Asia, which accounts for one-sixth of the global economy.

A leading South Korean daily, the "JoongAng Ilbo," said Seoul needed to review how it organized its military, which has long focused on a possible conventional war with North Korea.

"North Korea's rocket launch has shifted the security landscape on the Korean peninsula because we must accept the reality that it is capable of launching intercontinental ballistic missiles," "JoongAng Ilbo" said in an editorial.

Analysts said the launch would bolster the authority of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il after a suspected stroke in August raised doubts about his grip on power.

The communist state said a satellite was launched into orbit and was circling the Earth transmitting revolutionary songs.

The U.S. Northern Command said stage one of the missile fell into the Sea of Japan and the other stages, along with the payload, landed in the Pacific Ocean. No debris fell on Japan.

In the only previous test flight of the Taepodong-2, in July 2006, the rocket blew apart 40 seconds after launch. The rocket is designed to fly an estimated 6,700 kilometers.

U.S. President Barack Obama said North Korea's move was intended as a threat to countries "near and far" and that Pyongyang must be forced to change.

China and Russia called on all sides for restraint. Both had already made clear they would use their veto power to block any resolution imposing new sanctions on Pyongyang.

Council members "agreed to continue consultations on the appropriate reaction by the council...given the urgency of the matter," Mexico's UN Ambassador Claude Heller, who holds the body's rotating presidency, told reporters.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice and Japanese Ambassador Yukio Takasu both called for a clear and firm response and said they wanted to see a fresh resolution. But Chinese Ambassador Zhang Yesui said any reaction must be "cautious and proportionate."

Washington and Tokyo want a resolution demanding stricter enforcement, and possibly expansion, of an existing arms embargo and financial sanctions.

The launch was the first big challenge for Obama in dealing with the prickly North, whose efforts to build a nuclear arsenal have long plagued ties with Washington.

Kim toured the command center and witnessed the launch, North Korea's official news agency KCNA reported, saying he met those who "contributed to the satellite launch by devoting all their wisdom and enthusiasm with ardent patriotism and warmly encouraged them before having a photograph taken with them."