The White House late Thursday denounced North Korea's failed effort to launch a rocket, condemning the attempt as a severe breach of its international obligations and warned that the secretive regime's "pattern of aggressive behavior" had only succeeded in further isolating itself from the international community.
"Despite the failure of its attempted missile launch, North Korea's provocative action threatens regional security, violates international law and contravenes its own recent commitments," spokesman Jay Carney said in a written statement.
Carney's statement did not spell out clear next steps, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had warned earlier that Washington would seek further UN Security Council sanctions, and the White House itself had said that it would halt planned shipments of food aid in response to any such launch.
Carney also cast doubt on the future of Obama's efforts to reach out to the Stalinist regime in Pyongyang, saying: "The President has been clear that he is prepared to engage constructively with North Korea. However, he has also insisted that North Korea live up to its own commitments, adhere to its international obligations and deal peacefully with its neighbors."
An Obama administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the launch as "in part a propaganda effort" and predicted it "will have ramifications internally." The official also called the launch "a chance for North Korea to showcase its military wares to prospective customers."
"The failure will make those customers think twice before buying anything," said the official, who suggested that tough sanctions backed by President Barack Obama had starved the regime of key components necessary for a successful launch.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command said that the United States had "detected and tracked a launch of the North Korean Taepo Dong-2 missile at 6:39 p.m.EDT. The missile was tracked on a southerly launch over the Yellow Sea. Initial indications are that the first stage of the missile fell into the sea 165 km west of Seoul, South Korea. The remaining stages were assessed to have failed and no debris fell on land. At no time were the missile or the resultant debris a threat."
Still, "any missile activity by North Korea is of concern to the international community. The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations, and is fully committed to the security [of] our allies in the region," Carney said.
"North Korea is only further isolating itself by engaging in provocative acts, and is wasting its money on weapons and propaganda displays while the North Korean people go hungry. North Korea's long-standing development of missiles and pursuit of nuclear weapons have not brought it security — and never will. North Korea will only show strength and find security by abiding by international law, living up to its obligations, and by working to feed its citizens, to educate its children, and to win the trust of its neighbors," the spokesman said.
North Korea had said that its rocket launch aimed to put a satellite called Kwangmyongsong-3 (Shining Star) in orbit as it marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of the regime's founder, Kim Il Sung. But the United States and other countries had denounced the move as an attempt to test the country's ballistic missile capabilities. UN Security Council resolutions forbid Pyongyang to carry out missile or nuclear tests.
"There is no doubt that this satellite would be launched using ballistic missile technology," Clinton had said at the State Department just hours before the failed launch.
Clinton also made clear that the moment the rocket left the launchpad, Obama would drop efforts to engage North Korea and would instead pursue further international sanctions.
"Pyongyang has a clear choice: It can pursue peace and reap the benefits of closer ties with the international community, including the United States; or it can continue to face pressure and isolation. If Pyongyang goes forward, we will all be back in the Security Council to take further action," she warned.
"And it's regrettable, because as you know, we had worked through an agreement that would have benefitted the North Korean people with the provision of food aid. But in the current atmosphere, we would not be able to go forward with that, and other actions that other countries had been considering would also be on hold," Clinton said.
Even if Obama still hoped to find a path back to talks or some kind of engagement with North Korea, his margin to maneuver faces constraints from the presidential campaign -- Republicans who have fiercely denounced his approach seized on the launch to claim it has failed. "Predictably, diplomatic overtures with North Korea have failed once more," said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon. "It appears North Korea has continued to pursue its efforts to strike the American people."
And the embattled Democratic president's foreign policy plate is piled high with other challenges like deciding the pace and scope of the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan -- central topic of a late-May NATO summit -- and the tense standoff over Iran's suspected nuclear program.
Obama leaves Friday for a Summit of the Americas in Colombia, but many observers of world affairs will be watching Istanbul, where negotiators from the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany -- the so-called P5+1 -- will sit down for the first time in over a year with officials from Iran. Israel has warned it cannot wait long in the face of what it says is Tehran's efforts to develop the ability to build a nuclear weapon. And Obama has warned that the window for a diplomatic solution is closing, and that he has not ruled out using force.
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