North Korea says it has succeeded in launching a long-range rocket and placing a satellite into orbit, defying international warnings.
The official Korean Central News Agency reported the news early Wednesday and it was later announced triumphantly by an anchor on North Korean state television.
“The second version of satellite Kwangmyongsong-3 successfully lifted off from the Sohae Space Center in Cholsan County, North Pyongan Province by carrier rocket Unha-3 on December 12. The satellite entered its present orbit.”
The North American Aerospace Defense Command says initial indications suggest the missile launch was successful in deploying an object that “appeared to achieve orbit.”
South Korean and Japanese defense officials confirmed that all three stages of the rocket appear to have separated as scheduled. But they could not immediately say whether the device had been placed into orbit.
The White House issued a statement calling the launch a “highly provocative act that threatens regional security” and violates U.N. Security Council resolutions barring ballistic missile activity by Pyongyang.
Seoul's Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan “strongly” condemned the launch, saying Pyongyang will bear “grave responsibility” and face deeper isolation.
“North Korea ignored repeated warnings and demands by the international community that it should withdraw the rocket launch. Our government along with the international community strongly denounce it.”
North Korea's main ally China, as well as Japan and other nations also quickly issued condemnations.
Diplomats say the U.N. Security council will meet Wednesday to discuss the launch at the request of Washington and Tokyo. Both South Korea and Japan also called emergency meetings of their top security councils.
The launch came as a surprise to many observers, since there were reports on Tuesday that North Korea had disassembled the rocket because of technical difficulties previously announced by Pyongyang.
North Korea on Monday extended the deadline for the rocket launch to December 29, after citing a “technical deficiency in the first stage control engine module of the rocket.”
North Korea is banned from carrying out any missile or nuclear-related tests by United Nations resolutions imposed in 2006 and 2009, after it conducted unsuccessful nuclear tests. A rocket launch in April also ended in failure.
The U.N. Security Council condemned the failed April launch and ordered foreign assets seized from several North Korean companies linked to financing and procuring weapons and missile technology.
Weeks after that launch, the United States responded by canceling a deal that would have provided the impoverished North with 240,000 metric tons of food.