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North Korean Rocket Launch Adds To Nuclear Fears

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. International reaction today to North Korea's latest rocket launch has been swift and emphatic. The United Nation's Security Council has condemned it and diplomats convened an emergency session to consider sanctions. The concern is that today's satellite launch is really part of Pyongyang's drive to develop ballistic missiles and, ultimately, the ability to launch nuclear warheads.

Inside North Korea itself, there was celebration. And we'll hear more on that after this report from NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: This was North Korea's second launch this year. And while the earlier one in April failed, the Security Council at the time warned that there would be consequences if Pyongyang did it again. So now, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice says the council is weighing its options.

SUSAN RICE: Despite the Security Council's clear requirements, North Korea is determined to pursue its ballistic missile program without regard for its international obligations. Therefore, members of the council must now work in a concerted fashion, to send North Korea a clear message that its violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions have consequences.

KELEMEN: Rice says she was pleased that the council quickly put out a statement condemning the North Korean rocket launch. South Korea's Ambassador Kim Sook was also in the room for the consultations and says he heard a lot of condemnations from diplomats sitting at the table.

AMBASSADOR KIM SOOK: Many nations have expressed concern that this constitutes the threat of the security of the region. You have seen the debris have fallen in many of the sea areas ranging from Korea, China and Southeast Asian countries, including Philippines.

KELEMEN: He's hoping for a swift and robust response. It's not clear, though, that China will be willing to expand sanctions on North Korea, as the U.S. would like. Victor Cha, who holds the Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says it would help if President Obama spoke out more forcefully on this issue because up to now, the reaction has been more of the same.

VICTOR CHA: There's a natural tendency to discount what the North Koreans do as being sort of these crazy people who are not successful in terms of their technology. I mean, there was even a statement by Senator Kerry today that called it Groundhog Day, saying it's sort of the same thing over and over again. But I think that there needs to be greater attention paid to the strategic significance of what they've done.

KELEMEN: They still have to cross other thresholds before they can target the U.S. with a long range missile, says Cha, who worked on these issues during the Bush administration. But he adds, it's only a matter of time and he thinks today's launch was significant.

CHA: For them, it's a significant technological threshold, but for the nonproliferation community, this is also a major event because there is no country that does more selling of missiles and missile technology around the world than North Korea.

KELEMEN: At the State Department, spokesperson Victoria Nuland wasn't offering any new policy prescriptions. She says the Obama administration has tried to make overtures to North Korea's new leader, Kim Jung-Un, but they've been repeatedly rebuffed.

VICTORIA NULAND: This new leader has a choice. He can plot a way forward that ends the isolation, that brings relief and a different way of life and progress to his people or he can further isolate them with steps like this. He can spend his time and his money shooting off missiles or he can feed his people. But he can't have both.

KELEMEN: The rocket launch, she says, will only make it harder now to restart multilateral disarmament talks with North Korea and regional powers. And she says the country will simply be more isolated, though it's already one of the most isolated countries in the world. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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