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DPRK launch 'fails' but is still an improvement

A ROCKET fired on Sunday by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea may have fallen into the sea, but military experts cautioned yesterday against calling it a complete failure, noting that it traveled twice as far as any missile the country has launched.

Although the distance was still far short of showing North Korea could reach US territory, it rattled the DPRK's neighbors and countries around the globe, with the US and its allies pushing for quick punishment at an emergency UN Security Council meeting held hours after liftoff.

Council members met for three hours on Sunday but failed to release even a customary preliminary statement of condemnation - evidence of the challenges in agreeing on some kind of punishment.

Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, told CBS television yesterday that the US is calling for a Security Council resolution that would be binding under international law, so North Korea's leaders understand "they can't act with impunity."

Diplomats privy to the closed-door talks say China, Russia, Libya and Vietnam were concerned about further destabilizing the region.

"Our position is that all countries concerned should show restraint and refrain from taking actions that might lead to increased tensions," Chinese Ambassador to the UN Zhang Yesui said.

The DPRK says it was exercising its right to peaceful space development. Still, Japan said it plans to extend its economic sanctions on the DPRK for another year. The measures, among other things, prohibit Japanese firms from buying DPRK exports.

DPRK leader Kim Jong Il personally observed the launch, Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency reported yesterday, expressing "great satisfaction" with the achievement. It claimed again yesterday that the rocket put an experimental communications satellite into orbit.

But US and Republic of Korea officials claim the entire rocket, including whatever payload it carried, ended up in the ocean after Sunday's launch. South Korean officials said the rocket's second stage landed in waters about 3,100 kilometers from the launch site.

That is double the distance a rocket managed in 1998 and far better than a 2006 launch of a long-range missile that fizzled just 42 seconds after liftoff. Japan, Guam, the Philippines, Mongolia and many parts of China now are within striking range, but Anchorage, Alaska, is roughly 6,000 kilometers from the launch site and the US mainland much farther away.

Daniel Pinkston, a Seoul-based analyst for the International Crisis Group, said that while the rocket's first stage successfully broke away, it appears the second and third stages failed to separate or had difficulty doing so.


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