News of North Korea's abortive rocket launch was announced Friday after Pyongyang admitted that the highly publicized attempt had failed.
“The earth observation satellite failed to enter its preset orbit. Scientists, technicians and experts are now looking into the cause of the failure,” the KCNA official news agency finally said in a brief report.
There is still no word from officials on the ground for foreign journalists invited to the launch by the normally very secretive state to witness what was touted as a historic occasion.
Neighboring South Korea, the country’s navy launched a salvage operation to retrieve the debris from the failed rocket launch, a military spokesman said.
“We’ve located where the debris landed and we’re making efforts to salvage it,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman told AFP.
The nuclear-armed North, which normally tightly restricts media visits, opened its doors to emphasize what it called its peaceful intentions in space.
The launch was supposed to be the centerpiece of mass celebrations marking the 100th anniversary on Sunday of the birth of founding leader Kim Il-Sung.
The impoverished nation, which suffers persistent food and electricity shortages, spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the launch, according to South Korean officials.
Launch failures may be embarrassing, but they are not uncommon even for wealthy and technologically advanced nations.
Christian Lardier, space editor at France's Air and Cosmos magazine, estimated that there was an average of 75 satellite launch attempts every year worldwide.
Each year there were four or five failures, he told AFP in Pyongyang.
But North Korea, other analysts said, was likely to be chastened by the failure given the extensive publicity build-up.
Kim Jong-Un, grandson of Kim Il-Sung, is working to strengthen his authority after taking over power when his own father Kim Jong-Il died last December.
The world condemns the launch
The US and its allies rushed to condemn North Korea’s failed rocket launch Friday as a provocative act that threatens regional security, while Russia, China and India urged all parties to show restraint.
United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, termed the rocket launch “deplorable”.
It “defies the firm and unanimous stance of the international community,” he said in a statement, while urging North Korea “not to undertake any further provocative action that will heighten tension in the region”.
The UN Security Council was to hold an emergency meeting Friday to condemn the launch, but Russia made clear it would oppose any new sanctions against the reclusive North Korean regime.
South Korea spoke of a “provocative act” which constitutes “a clear breach of the UN resolution that prohibits any launch using ballistic missile technology”.
Beijing, Pyongyang’s closest ally, urged world and regional powers to work to reopen stalled six-party talks between the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and China.
“We are convinced that the reaction to these challenges needs to be exclusively diplomatic and political,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said alongside his Chinese and Indian counterparts after a meeting in Moscow.
“We call on all parties to show maximum responsibility and restraint and to make efforts for a renewal of six party talks,” he said, adding the Security Council should offer a strong but “balanced” response.
“We do not believe in new sanctions. They would not do anything from the standpoint of settling the situation,” Lavrov said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, speaking alongside Lavrov, said Beijing had been working hard to avoid future tensions and was disappointed with Pyongyang’s decision to proceed with the launch.
Yang said China was “concerned by North Korea’s decision” and expressed hope that all sides “will promote mutual understanding through joint efforts and promote the six party processes.”
The three giant regional powers also recognized North Korea’s right to pursue space exploration and said Pyongyang would be welcome to conduct launches once it cooperates with the United Nations.
North Korea’s “right to use outer space for peaceful purposes can be realized exclusively in the context of the lifting of corresponding limitations,” their joint statement said.
The US said the launch threatens Asian security.
“North Korea is only further isolating itself by engaging in provocative acts, and is wasting its money on weapons and propaganda displays while the North Korean people go hungry,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
“Despite the failure of its attempted missile launch, North Korea’s provocative action threatens regional security, violates international law and contravenes its own recent commitments,” he added.
Washington’s key regional allies, Seoul and Tokyo, spoke in unison, blasting the launch as a contravention of United Nations resolutions.
“Even if it was a failure, it is a grave provocation to our country and other countries concerned and violates UN Security Council resolutions,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said.
Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight powers - Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the US - jointly called on North Korea to refrain from future attempts.
The European Union described North Korea’s action as “dangerous and destabilizing.”
“Regardless of its stated purpose, today’s attempted launch is a clear violation of (North Korea’s) international obligations as set out in particular under UN Security Council Resolution 1874,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the western military alliance, said the launch made regional tensions worse.
It was “a clear breach of the UN Security Council’s resolutions, and undermines efforts to reduce tensions and increase transparency and trust in the Korean peninsula and the wider region,” NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said in a statement.
Australia was in lockstep with its Western allies, with Prime Minister Julia Gillard urging a “robust response” from the Security Council.
“Regardless of its outcome, this launch was provocative and dangerous,” she said in a statement.
But Indonesia struck a cautious note, urging calm in the wake of the launch.
“More than ever, it is vital that diplomacy and dialogue be placed at the forefront in order to ensure peace and stability on the Korean peninsula,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said.
Pyongyang made two previous attempts to launch a satellite, in 1998 and 2009, but the U.S. and other outside observers say there is no evidence that either reached orbit.