PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korea fired a long-range rocket early Friday, South Korean and U.S. officials said, defying international warnings against moving forward with a launch widely seen as a provocation.
Days after threatening to do so, a rocket lifted off at 7:39 a.m. from the west coast launch pad in the hamlet of Tongchang-ri, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said, citing South Korean and U.S. intelligence.
However, the launch may have failed, U.S. officials said in Washington. Japan’s Defense Minister Naiki Tanaka concurred.
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“We have confirmed that a certain flying object has been launched and fell after flying for just over a minute.” He did not say what exactly was launched.
He said there was no impact on Japanese territory from the launch.
In Pyongyang, there was no word about a launch, and state television was broadcasting video for popular folk tunes. North Korean officials said they would make an announcement about the launch “soon.”
North Korea had earlier announced it would send a three-stage rocket mounted with a satellite as part of celebrations honoring national founder Kim Il Sung, whose 100th birthday is being celebrated Sunday.
Space officials say the rocket is meant to send a satellite into orbit to study crops and weather patterns – its third bid to launch a satellite since 1998.
The United States, Britain, Japan and others, however, have called such a launch a violation of U.N. resolutions prohibiting North Korea from nuclear and ballistic missile activity.
Experts say the Unha-3 carrier is the same type of rocket that would be used to launch a long-range missile aimed at the U.S. and other targets. North Korea has tested two atomic devices but is not believed to have mastered the technology needed to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has warned that the launch would be a direct threat to regional security and said the U.S. would pursue “appropriate action” at the U.N. Security Council if North Korea goes ahead with it.
According to projections, the first stage of the rocket was to fall into the ocean off the western coast of South Korea, while a second stage would fall into waters off the eastern coast of the Philippine island of Luzon.
North Korean space officials have dismissed assertions that the launch is a cover for developing missile technology as “nonsense.”