(CNSNews.com) – Japan called for an urgent U.N. Security Council meeting after North Korea early Wednesday fired a long-range missile, apparently placing a satellite in orbit.
The White House called it a "highly provocative act" that threatens regional security.
Tuesday's launch, which caught the world by surprise, directly violated U.N. Security Council resolutions and contravened North Korea's international obligations, the White House said in a terse statement:
"This action is yet another example of North Korea's pattern of irresponsible behavior. The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and fully committed to the security of our allies in the region," the statement from National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said. "Given this current threat to regional security, the United States will strengthen and increase our close coordination with allies and partners."
"The international community must work in a concerted fashion to send North Korea a clear message that its violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions have consequences," Vietor added.
North Korea declared the launch of a rocket and satellite a success early Wednesday local time. Three hours later, the U.S. military confirmed that an object appeared to achieve orbit.
The object launched by North Korea “appeared to achieve orbit” after stages of the rocket landed in the sea between the Korean peninsula and China, and in the Philippine Sea, according to North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
“U.S. missile warning systems detected and tracked the launch of a North Korean missile at 7:49 p.m. EST [9:49 a.m. Wednesday local time],” it said in a statement issued several hours after the launch.
“The missile was tracked on a southerly azimuth. Initial indications are that the first stage fell into the Yellow Sea. The second stage was assessed to fall into the Philippine Sea.
“Initial indications are that the missile deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit. At no time was the missile or the resultant debris a threat to North America,” NORAD said.
Pyongyang, which early this month announced its intention to launch an “earth observation satellite” sometime between Dec. 10 and 22, reported Wednesday that the launch had been successful.
Its KCNA news agency said the Kwangmyongsong-3 (“Bright Star”) satellite had entered its “predicted orbit.” Western experts have dismissed previous such claims, but NORAD’s initial assessment this time indicated that this time it may have achieved that goal.
Security experts say North Korea’s Unha carrier rocket closely mirrors its Taepodong-2 long-range ballistic missile, and U.N. Security Council resolutions forbid it from carrying out any launch using ballistic missile technology.
After its last failed attempt, last April, the Security Council issued a statement condemning the move and warning it was determined to take unspecified “action” in the event of a repeat.
Wednesday’s was North Korea’s fifth long-range missile test since the first in 1998.
Earlier, Japan had placed its military on alert to shoot down the rocket or debris if it threatened Japanese territory, but government officials said although the rocket passed over its southern island of Okinawa no debris had landed on Japanese soil.
The launch window announced by North Korea coincided with next Monday’s first anniversary of Kim Jong-il’s death and next Wednesday’s presidential elections in South Korea.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak called an emergency security meeting after Wednesday’s launch.