SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korean soldiers on Wednesday celebrated the nation’s defiant launch of a rocket in a mass rally, while Russia’s foreign minister said any new measures to punish Pyongyang could be counter-productive.
The United States, Japan and South Korea said the North’s launch on Sunday was a disguised test of a long-range missile designed to carry warheads to U.S. territory and deserved punishment because it violated U.N. resolutions.
North Korea warned the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday it would take “strong steps” if the 15-nation body took any action in response to the launch. On Wednesday, the Communist-ruled country gathered its top party and military officials for a celebration of the launch broadcast on its state TV and monitored in Seoul.
The reclusive state has threatened to boycott six-nation nuclear disarmament talks and restart a plant that makes bomb-grade plutonium. It also warned on Wednesday of military action if anyone tried to retrieve debris from the rocket.
U.S. and South Korean military officials said the missile, known as the Taepodong-2, crashed into the Pacific Ocean and that no satellite was deployed during its 3,200 km (2,000 mile) flight over Japan, as Pyongyang has said.
The North’s KCNA news agency quoted a military spokesman as saying Japan’s attempt to find booster stages off its coasts was “an intolerable military provocative act of infringing upon its (North Korea’s) sovereignty” and would prompt a response.
Diplomats in New York said negotiations on a Security Council response to the launch were deadlocked. The five permanent council members — United States, Britain, France, China and Russia — and Japan have failed to break the impasse in several meetings.
The United States and Japan would like a legally binding resolution expanding existing financial sanctions and an arms embargo against North Korea. Critics have said the sanctions lacked enforcement.
But U.N. diplomats say the Chinese would prefer that the council either do nothing or issue a non-binding statement to the media that stops far short of condemning the launch. Japan and the three Western powers have rejected that idea.
U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters on Wednesday “there are some differences of opinion” when asked why the Council had not yet responded to the launch.
“It’s going to take time,” he said about the negotiations in New York. “I can’t put a timeframe on it.”
Concerned about the stability of its unpredictable neighbor, Beijing has said any U.N. reaction must be “cautious and proportionate.” China is sometimes viewed as North Korea’s only major ally.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the threat of sanctions against North Korea was “counter-productive.”
North Korea said it had the right to deploy a satellite, which it says is circling the globe playing revolutionary songs, as a part of a peaceful space program.
Analysts said North Korea went ahead with the launch knowing it would not suffer serious repercussions, while its leader, Kim Jong-il, would see an enormous boost at home for the defiant act.
“The successful launching of the satellite ... is not a mere fruition of wisdom and talent but a fierce confrontation with those who disliked it,” KCNA said in a separate report.
Kim is expected to ride a wave of patriotic fervor generated by the launch at the annual meeting of the North’s rubber stamp parliament on Thursday.
The Supreme People’s Assembly meeting, where a new pecking order for communist party cadres will be unveiled, is expected to show that Kim, 67, has recovered from a suspected stroke and is fully in control of Asia’s only communist dynasty.
In its only previous missile test in 2006, the rocket exploded seconds after launch. Despite a technical failure the recent launch showed that the impoverished North had greatly increased the range of its missiles but may be years away from building one to threaten the United States, analysts said.
Additional reporting by Chisa Fujioka in Tokyo, Kim Junghyun in Seoul, Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow, Deborah Charles in Washington and Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations; Editing by Paul Tait and Paul Simao