Nuclear-armed North Korea, already under strict U.N. Security Council resolutions prohibiting it from conducting further nuclear or missile tests, fired off its long-range rocket Wednesday and few hours later claimed success in placing what it called a space "earth observation" satellite in orbit, while much of the rest of the world, already concerned about its aggressive and provocative behavior, watched in shock. The country reportedly conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
"It is a clear violation of Security Council resolution 1874 (2009), in which the Council demanded that (North Korea) not conduct any launch using ballistic missile technology," U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement.
The long-range Unha-3 rocket was reportedly launched from a site on North Korea's west coast and various reports said it passed over Okinawa, dumping debris into the sea off the Korean Peninsula, the East China Sea and near the Philippines.
The launch was "all the more regrettable because it defies the unified and strong call from the international community," said Ban's statement issued by his spokesperson.
The statement said the U.N. head is concerned about how the North's "provocative" act may affect peace and stability in the region.
Separately, the U.N. Security Council condemned the rocket launch, calling it "a clear violation" of its resolutions, said a statement from the permanent representatives of Morocco, which is the council's president this month.
The statement recalled that in April, after North Korea failed in its first rocket launch, the 15-membr council had demanded that it not proceed "with any further launch with ballistic missile technology and also expressed the council's determination to take action accordingly" in the event of another launch attempt.
Jay Carney, White House press secretary to U.S. President Barack Obama, said the United States had all along said a rocket launch would be a "provocative act that threatens regional peace and security and undermines the global non-proliferation regime."
"And it is regrettable that the leadership in Pyongyang chose to take this course in flagrant violation of its international obligations," he said, adding "we will continue to work with our international partners to ensure that the North Korean regime is further isolated, that it is further punished for its flagrant violations of international obligations, and the specifics behind those further steps will await action in New York."
The action by Pyongyang has raised security concerns on the already tense Korean Peninsula and questions about whether North Korea had moved closer to being able to target sites as far away as mainland United States with nuclear-armed ballistic missiles.
What surprised the world about the North Korean launch was that it came two days after North Korea extended the launch window by a week until Dec. 29, citing "technical deficiency in the first-stage control engine module of the rocket carrying the satellite."
The world had been concerned that the long-range rocket launch would only be a cover by the North to test a ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
The United States along with China, Russia, Japan and South Korea have been involved for years with North Korea under the Six-Party format to end its nuclear program in exchange for massive aid. Those talks, however, have remained stalled since 2009 after North Korea walked away because of U.N. sanctions.
North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman that the satellite launch was for peaceful and scientific purposes.
"No matter what others say, we will continue to exercise our legitimate right to launch satellites and thus actively contribute to the economic construction and improvement of people's living standards," the spokesman said, China's official Xinhua News Agency reported.
The spokesman also said those who described it as a long-range missile launch in "violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions" are prompted by hostility toward the North.
"We hope that all countries concerned will use reason and remain cool so as to prevent the situation from developing in an undesirable direction," the spokesman said.
U.S. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Victor said the North Korean rocket launch was an example of its "pattern of irresponsible behavior" and undermined the global non-proliferation regime. He said the launch will only strengthen and increase U.S. close coordination with allies and partners.
"It is extremely regrettable that North Korea went through with the launch despite our calls to exercise restraint," Japan's chief government spokesman Osamu Fujimura said. "Our country cannot tolerate this. We strongly protest to North Korea."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague in a statement condemned the North Korean action and said: "This provocative act will increase tensions in the region."
Russia expressed "deep regret" over the rocket launch and said it will not help strengthen stability but have a negative effect on the situation in the region, its Foreign Ministry said.
"We expect that other parties would refrain from steps capable of heating the atmosphere and putting new obstacles in the way of resuming the six-party talks," the ministry said.
China, North Korea's main ally, also expressed regrets over the launch, saying it came amid the "universal" concern of the international community, a Foreign Ministry spokesman.
"The Chinese side always holds that (all sides concerned) should find an ultimate way to long-lasting peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula through dialogues and consultations," the spokesman said.
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