Defying weeks of international warnings of more censure and further sanctions, North Korea launched a rocket on Friday, an act that the United States called a cover for developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that one day might be able to carry a nuclear warhead. But the three-stage rocket appeared to break up and collapse moments after the launching.
Officials from the United States, South Korea and Japan called the launching a failure, and the Japanese government said the rocket had disintegrated into several pieces while still in North Korean territory or over South Korean waters.
“We believe that the rocket fell apart in several pieces and plunged several minutes after the takeoff,” said Kim Min-seok, a spokesman for South Korea’s Defense Ministry. He said the assessment of both South Korean and American intelligence monitors was that “the North Korean missile launching has failed.”
The rocket, called the Unha-3, blasted off from the Soehae launching site near North Korea’s western border with China, about 7:40 a.m., the South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman said.
In Washington, a senior Obama administration official said the United States would follow through on its threat to suspend a recent agreement to supply food aid to North Korea. The official also said the failure had proved the effectiveness of sanctions already in place on North Korea, which had deprived the country of access needed for a successful program.
There was no immediate announcement of the launching from the North.
In Tokyo, Japan’s government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, said that an American satellite had detected a launching at 7:40, but the object appeared to break apart soon after takeoff. He said the Japanese prime minister convened an emergency meeting of his national security advisers, but that nothing had been detected approaching Japanese territory.
Mr. Fujimura called on the Japanese people “to go about your daily lives,” saying there was no reason to panic.
North Korea had said the rocket would fly southward, carrying its Kwangmyongsong-3 communications satellite, and had insisted that the launching was for peaceful purposes.
The North’s two previous attempts to put versions of Kwangmyongsong into orbit — one in 1998 and the second in 2009 — both failed to reach the required altitudes, according to experts, and the payloads fell into the sea. The North has rejected this version of events. To this day, it still boasts that a satellite is in orbit, broadcasting patriotic songs.
South Korea, Japan and the Philippines — the countries near the North Korean rocket’s projected trajectory — were on heightened alert in case the launching went awry, potentially endangering their citizens or property. Airlines and ships had been ordered to stay away from the rocket’s trajectory and the splashdown zones of its debris.
The North’s decision to proceed with the launching came despite a rising chorus of warnings, led by the United States.
The United States and its allies also warned that they would take the country to the United Nations Security Council for a censure and probably further tighten sanctions already imposed after previous missile tests.
At the same time, monitors were checking for signs the North might be preparing to conduct its third nuclear test. South Korean monitors recently had warned of seeing activity that suggested preparations at a site near the northeastern tip of the country where its other tests were conducted.
The launching was a belligerent statement by North Korea and its new leader, Kim Jong-un, that he intended to follow a path laid by his father, Kim Jong-il, and his grandfather, Kim Il-sung.
The North said it was launching the rocket as part of national celebrations honoring the centenary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the country’s founder. But the United States and other countries said they suspected that the satellite program simply offered a pretext for work on intercontinental ballistic missile technology that might someday enable the North to deliver nuclear warheads.
Choe Sang-hun reported from Seoul, South Korea, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Martin Fackler contributed reporting from Tokyo.
I guess India is not alone.