UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Security Council condemned North Korea’s rogue rocket launch Wednesday, and the United States started pressing China to agree on punitive action against its ally.
North Korea took a defiant stance against international fury over its launch, and China signaled it was reluctant to take tough new measures.
The U.N. Security Council held emergency talks after the North — already under international sanctions for nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 — ignored pleas from friends and foes and went ahead with a rocket launch to put a satellite into space.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry confirmed that goal Thursday, saying the satellite was in operational orbit. North Korea said the launch was a purely scientific mission aimed at placing a polar-orbiting Earth observation satellite in space.
“It is not yet known what kind of mission the satellite is conducting. It usually takes two weeks to evaluate whether a satellite is successful. For the time being, it is working normally,” ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok told reporters.
A statement released after the Security Council meeting said, “Members of the Security Council condemned this launch, which is a clear violation of Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874.” The council highlighted a warning made after a failed launch in April, when the rocket exploded shortly after liftoff, that it could take “action” if there was a new attempt. “Members of the Security Council will continue consultations on an appropriate response,” the statement said.
The United States said there had to be “consequences” for the breach of U.N. resolutions. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said talks would start straight away on international action. The launch shows that “North Korea is determined to pursue its ballistic missile program without regard for its international obligations,” Rice told reporters. “Members of the council must now work in a concerted fashion to send North Korea a clear message that its violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions have consequences.”
China’s U.N. ambassador, Li Baodong, resisted harder-hitting language in the statement, diplomats at the closed meeting said.
Li opposed mentioning in the statement that the North had used “ballistic missile technology” but eventually gave in after pressure from Rice. He also argued that there was no reason to condemn China.
In Beijing, the Chinese government responded relatively quickly by expressing “regret” and pressing the country to abide by U.N. resolutions. But in a commentary, state news agency Xinhua also decried “bellicose rhetoric and gestures” and defended North Korea’s right to explore space. It called on all sides to avoid “stoking the flames.”
Japan’s ambassador to the U.N., Tsuneo Nishida, expressed a desire to seek stronger sanctions against North Korea through the Security Council. Japan considers the launch a de facto firing of a long-range ballistic missile. “Since an action was taken in a way to absolutely reject a strong message from the international community in April, it is appropriate to envisage fresh measures, including sanctions,” Nishida said.
Washington has meanwhile decided to sell Japan the necessary hardware to enable all of the nation’s Aegis destroyers to intercept ballistic missiles, sources have said.
The Maritime Self-Defense Force has six Aegis radar-equipped destroyers, of which the Atago and Ashigara are the only ones without interceptor missile equipment.
The U.S. Department of Defense on Monday informed Congress of a plan to sell equipment worth $421 million to help upgrade the two destroyers. Tokyo has also received the information, the sources said.
The sale will enable the installation of the Standard Missile-3, a sea-based interceptor missile system, on the two ships. It will also mark further enhancement of cooperation in missile defense.
The department says the sale is based on a request from Japan and will contribute to the objectives of the bilateral security pact.
The North said it would ignore international warnings. “We will continue to exercise our legitimate right to launch satellites,” said a Foreign Ministry spokesman.
North Korea fired the rocket just days before its young ruler, Kim Jong Un, marks 12 months in power.
Masao Okonogi, a professor of Korean politics at Keio University, said the launch would thrust North Korea close to the top of the national security agenda for President Barack Obama.
“Putting a satellite into orbit means that you have technology to get a warhead to a targeted area. Now North Korea is becoming not only a threat to the neighboring countries but also a real threat to the United States,” he said.