World leaders condemn N. Korea rocket launch, seek sanctions

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NEW YORK  (AP) — North Korea’s launch of a long-range rocket to put an object into orbit prompted an emergency early-morning meeting of the United Nations Security Council Sunday, as leaders around the world condemned the rogue state of violating UN sanctions.

The rocket was launched from North Korea’s west coast only two hours after an eight-day launch window opened Sunday morning, its path tracked separately by the United States, Japan and South Korea. No damage from debris was reported.

The launch followed North Korea’s widely disputed claim last month to have tested a hydrogen bomb. The U.S. and its allies are expected to push for more tough sanctions. South Korea’s president, and other world leaders, called the launch a banned test of dangerous ballistic missile technology and yet another “intolerable provocation.”

The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting Sunday morning at the request of the U.S. and Japan which said Pyongyang had violated a council ban on ballistic missile launches. Japan’s U.N. Ambassador Motohide Yoshikawa said before heading into the closed meeting that the missile went over Japan and landed near the Philippines, “and this is a clear threat to the lives of many people.”

Motohide said that while “China calls for more dialogue,” what’s needed now is pressure and speedy adoption of tough new sanctions. The U.S. and China have been working on a new sanctions resolution since North Korea’s nuclear test on Jan. 6.

The Foreign Ministry in China, the North’s only major ally and its protector in the U.N. Security Council, where Beijing wields veto power, expressed “regret that, disregarding the opposition from the international community, the (North) side obstinately insisted in carrying out a launch by using ballistic missile technologies.” A statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry criticized the rocket launch, calling on the North Korean leadership “to think about whether the policy of opposing the entire international community is serving the interests of the country.”

Britain, France and Ukraine also called for swift and tough new sanctions. Russia also criticized North Korea’s rocket launch, saying Pyongyang once again has shown its disdain for international law.

A statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry on Sunday called on the North Korean leadership “to think about whether the policy of opposing the entire international community is serving the interests of the country.”

The ministry also said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discussed the launch with his Japanese counterpart and stressed the importance of finding a diplomatic solution.

North Korean rocket and nuclear tests are seen as crucial steps toward the North’s ultimate goal of a nuclear armed missile that could hit the U.S. mainland. North Korea under leader Kim Jong Un has pledged to bolster its nuclear arsenal unless Washington scraps what Pyongyang calls a hostile policy meant to collapse Kim’s government. Diplomats are also pushing to tighten U.N. sanctions because of the North’s Jan. 6 nuclear test.

In a development that will worry both Pyongyang and Beijing, a senior South Korean Defense Ministry official, Yoo Jeh Seung, told reporters that Seoul and Washington have agreed to begin talks on a possible deployment of the THADD missile defense system in South Korea. North Korea has long decried the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, and Beijing would see a South Korean deployment of THAAD, which is one of the world’s most advanced missile defense systems, as a threat to its interests in the region.

In a statement, North Korea’s National Aerospace Development Administration, in typical propaganda-laden language, praised “the fascinating vapor of Juche satellite trailing in the clear and blue sky in spring of February on the threshold of the Day of the Shining Star.” Juche is a North Korean philosophy focusing on self-reliance; the Day of the Shining Star refers to the Feb. 16 birthday of former dictator Kim Jong Il. North Korea has previously staged rocket launches to mark important anniversaries.

Venezuela’s U.N. Ambassador Rafael Ramirez, the council president for February, told reporters before the Security Council meeting that agreement on a new sanctions resolution may follow, perhaps next week.