North Korea on Wednesday ignored warnings from the United States and other nations and fired a long-range rocket into space -- an impressive technical effort with significant implications for the nation's development of an ICBM.
"Initial indications are that the missile deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit," the North American Aerospace Defense Command said in a statement quoted by the New York Times. "At no time was the missile or resultant debris a threat to North America."
The timing of the rocket firing took many foreign observers by surprise given that Pyongyang on Monday had announced it was extending its launch window until Dec. 29 to allow time for fixing a malfunctioning system in one of the stages of its Unha 3 space rocket.
North Korean state-controlled media said the three-stage space vehicle was successful in placing a weather monitoring satellite into rotation around the Earth.
The international community does not accept Pyongyang's insistence of a right to carry out space launches as they are outlawed by U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban North Korea from using technology with ballistic missile applications.
The White House in a statement by National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor condemned the launch as a "highly provocative act that threatens regional security, directly violates United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874, contravenes North Korea’s international obligations, and undermines the global nonproliferation regime."
North Korea's longtime ally China said it "regrets" the rocket firing. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei reminded Pyongyang of its U.N. responsibility to "abide by relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council." The comments by Hong were a degree sterner than the rhetoric Beijing has used in the past in responding to North Korean provocations.
The Security Council met on Wednesday to discuss the situation. Afterward it said the launch breached Resolution 1874, the 2009 measure that prohibits the North from carrying out "any launch using ballistic missile technology," the Associated Press reported.
The 15-nation body said it would look for "an appropriate response" to the launch.
The council sanctioned North Korea for its 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests. The key question is whether veto-holding permanent member China would agree to further action against Pyongyang.
Beijing "believes U.N. Security Council reaction should be prudent and moderate and conducive to maintaining stability and avoiding escalation of the situation," AP quoted Hong as saying.