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N. Korea Launches Rocket, UN To Hold Emergency Meet


An undated photo made available by North Korea in January 2009 shows the launch of missiles
SEOUL/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -- North Korea fired a long-range rocket on April 5, provoking international outrage and prompting the UN Security Council to call an emergency meeting.

The reclusive communist state, which has tested a nuclear device and is in stalled six-party talks about ending its nuclear program, said a satellite was launched into orbit and was circling the Earth transmitting revolutionary songs.

The U.S. military and South Korea said it had failed to enter orbit.

"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," U.S. President Barack Obama said.

The 15-nation Security Council was due to hold an emergency closed-door meeting from 1900 GMT but China and Russia have made clear they will use their veto power to block any resolution imposing new sanctions on Pyongyang.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on North Korea to return to the nuclear talks with the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.

Analysts say the launch was effectively a test of a ballistic missile designed to carry a warhead as far as the U.S. state of Alaska. North Korea can use the same rocket -- the Taepodong-2 -- to launch satellites and test missiles.

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

Addressing a crowd in Prague during a European tour, Obama committed himself to reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal and said Washington would seek to engage all nuclear weapons states in arms reduction efforts.

Obama remained committed to talks to "denuclearize" North Korea, the White House said.

South Korea branded the launch a "reckless" act, Japan said it was "extremely regrettable" and the European Union condemned Pyongyang's step. NATO called it "highly provocative."

"There is only one response possible: the union of the international community must punish a regime that doesn't respect any international rules," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said.

China, the nearest North Korea has to a major ally, and Russia called on all sides for calm and restraint.

Flurry Of Calls

Analysts said the rocket launch may bolster North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's authority after a suspected stroke last August raised doubts about his grip on power.

Security Council diplomats said there was a flurry of phone calls and meetings before the afternoon meeting as the U.S., Japanese, and allied delegations consulted on a strategy to persuade Russia and China that strong condemnation of North Korea's behavior and tough action were needed.

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the launch "merits an appropriately strong" UN response.

The United States, Japan and South Korea see the launch as a violation of a Security Council resolution passed in 2006 after Pyongyang's nuclear test and other missile tests. That resolution, No. 1718, demands North Korea "suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program."

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi called officials in the United States, Russia, Japan and South Korea to discuss the launch, the Foreign Ministry said.

"All sides ought to look at the big picture [and] avoid taking actions which may exacerbate the situation further," a Chinese statement said.

Using similar language, Russia's foreign minister called on the international community to demonstrate a "balanced approach and caution" during the Security Council discussions.

'Negotiating Hand Strengthened'

Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo had said before the launch that in reality it would be a test of the Taepodong-2, which is designed to fly an estimated 6,700 kilometers.

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.

South Korea earlier said the rocket appeared to be carrying a satellite but Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee later told parliament it failed to orbit, Kyodo news agency reported.

Japan said it stopped monitoring the rocket after it had passed 2,100 kilometers east of Tokyo.

In the only previous test flight of the Taepodong-2, in July 2006, the rocket blew apart 40 seconds after launch.

The launch wins North Korea the attention it has sought as Obama's new administration deals with the financial crisis and two wars, and it could bolster Kim's hand in using military threats to win concessions from global powers.

"North Korea is likely to judge that its negotiating position has been strengthened now that it has both the nuclear and missile cards," said Shunji Hiraiwa of Shizuoka Prefectural University in Japan.

The U.S. arms control coordinator, Gary Samore, said the launch meant missile defense would stay a priority.

Obama told Polish leaders in Prague the United States would continue research and development of its missile shield. Washington plans to station rockets in Poland meant to shoot down ballistic missiles -- a move that has annoyed Russia.

Stephen Bosworth, U.S. special envoy for North Korea, said before the launch he hoped to bring Pyongyang back to the talks that stalled in December. Pyongyang has threatened to quit the talks if the United Nations punishes it over the launch.

While the six-party negotiations were central to efforts to get North Korea to give up its nuclear program, Bosworth said, Washington was ready for direct contact with Pyongyang.

Park Jong-kyu, an economist at the Korea Institute of Finance in Seoul, said the impact on financial markets when they reopen on April 6 would most likely be short-lived or negligible.