, SEOUL, Apr 6 – South Korea Monday vowed a stern response and Japan threatened new sanctions after North Korea’s rocket launch, but the United Nations struggled for agreement on whether to punish the communist state.
"North Korea’s reckless act that threatens regional and global security cannot be justified under any circumstances," Seoul’s President Lee Myung-Bak said in a radio address, promising a "stern" response to provocations.
Japan’s government will decide Friday on new bilateral sanctions, Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said. Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone said it hoped the Security Council would agree a new resolution to condemn North Korea.
The council adjourned Sunday after three hours of closed-door talks with no accord on a response to what Western members called a clear breach of UN resolutions.
Members were to continue consultations.
The North Sunday announced that a long-range rocket placed into orbit a communications satellite which was beaming songs in praise of the nation’s revolutionary leaders.
Leader Kim Jong-Il was present at the launch and "warmly encouraged" scientists and technicians before having his picture taken with them, state media said Monday.
South Korea and the US military say a satellite never made it into space. A senior Russian military source also said there are no signs of a satellite.
Seoul, Washington and Tokyo, along with other nations, say the launch was a pretext to test a long-range Taepodong-2 missile in violation of UN resolutions.
A Western diplomat at the UN said US ambassador Susan Rice, backed by her British and French colleagues, pressed for "strong condemnation" of the launch.
But Russia, China, Libya, Uganda and Vietnam called for restraint so as not to endanger the six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament.
"We are now in a very sensitive moment. All countries concerned should show restraint and refrain from taking action that might lead to increased tension," China’s UN ambassador Zhang Yesui told reporters Sunday.
"The use of ballistic missile technology is a clear violation of the resolution which prohibits missile-related activities," Rice noted in reference to Resolution 1718 passed after the North’s missile and nuclear tests in 2006.
The Western diplomat said the council might take up a resolution or a non-binding statement that would reaffirm existing sanctions.
Iran said Monday the North’s launch was justified and denied any links between the two countries’ missile programmes, as analysts have widely alleged.
"We have always maintained that space can be used for peaceful purposes by adhering to international laws," said a foreign ministry spokesman.
"As it is our right to do so, we maintain that others also have that right."
Analysts said available data indicated that North Korea had failed in its third attempt since 1998 to build an accurate long-range missile.
"Today was a failure," Joseph Bermudez of Jane’s Information Group told AFP Sunday following the rocket launch.
"And it seems to indicate that North Korea has not been able to demonstrate a reliable system capable of being an ICBM or a space launch vehicle."
Bermudez said current information indicated the second stage did not drop, meaning the rocket was too heavy to sustain flight.
He termed it a step back from the 1998 launch of a Taepodong-1 which achieved first and second-stage separation while the third stage failed. The only previous test of a Taepodong-2, in 2006, failed 40 seconds after lift-off.
Chosun Sinbo, a pro-Pyonyang paper published in Japan, quoted Ko Sang-Bok, head of the North’s Hydrometerological Service, as saying the blast-off paved the way for launching satellites for practical purposes "within the next few years."
Sunday’s launch was a "historic achievement which enhanced our pride greatly," Ko was quoted as saying.