Global outrage spews over North Korea rocket launch

AFP-JIJI

North Korea hailed an “epochal event” but its latest long-range rocket launch Sunday sparked international anger and plans for talks on a U.S. missile defense system for the peninsula.

Pyongyang’s state TV announced the nation successfully put a satellite into orbit, “legitimately exercising the right to use space for independent and peaceful purposes.”

Many others saw an exercise which clearly defied multiple U.N. resolutions — a disguised test of a ballistic missile which could one day deliver a nuclear warhead as far as the U.S. mainland.

The United Nations labeled the launch “deeply deplorable” and Japan termed it “absolutely intolerable.” Even the isolated state’s sole major ally China expressed regret.

The international community is still struggling to reach agreement on how to respond to Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test — of what it claimed was a hydrogen bomb — on Jan. 6.

After Sunday’s launch, South Korean and U.S. defense officials announced they would begin formal talks on deploying a U.S. missile defense system in South Korea.

The U.S. says the highly advanced Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system would be a deterrent necessitated by the North’s advancing ballistic missile program.

But China and Russia fear it could trigger an arms race in a delicately balanced region.

United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon called the North’s actions “deeply deplorable” and demanded it “halt its provocative actions and return to compliance with its international obligations.”

At Seoul’s request the U.N. Security Council will hold emergency talks on the launch later Sunday.

The United States and its allies want to intensify sanctions. But veto-wielding council member China, Pyongyang’s main trading partner and oil supplier, has in the past blocked tougher measures.

Washington denounced the launch as “destabilizing and provocative.”

“North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs represent serious threats to our interests — including the security of some of our closest allies — and undermine peace and security in the broader region,” National Security Advisor Susan Rice said in a statement.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the North’s actions “absolutely intolerable.” Russia termed the launch a serious blow to regional security including that of Pyongyang itself.

“It is obvious that such actions lead to a serious aggravation of the situation on the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia on the whole . . . (and) inflict serious damage to the security of the countries of the region, first and foremost North Korea itself,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

France condemned the launch as “senseless provocation” and called for a “rapid and tough” response from the Security Council.

Australia also urged a strong council response, while NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the rocket was a blatant breach of five U.N. resolutions.

The European Union lashed the launch as “yet another outright and grave violation” of the North’s obligations.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Pyongyang had clearly shown that nuclear and missile programs took priority over improving the well-being of its people.

China, in a more muted reaction, “expressed regret.”

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Pyongyang had “the right to the peaceful use of space, but that right is limited by the relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions.”

Hua called for “all relevant parties to deal with the situation calmly” and for “dialogue and consultations.”

Beijing is irritated by the North’s nuclear ambitions. But observers say it is concerned that cutting off trade with its neighbor could trigger a flood of refugees across its border.

It also fears any collapse of the regime in Pyongyang may lead to a U.S.-allied unified Korea on its doorstep.