Pyongyang’s state TV announced the nation successfully put a satellite into orbit, “legitimately exercising the right to use space for independent and peaceful purposes”.
Many others saw an exercise which clearly defied multiple UN resolutions – a disguised test of a ballistic missile which could one day deliver a warhead as far as the US mainland.
The United Nations called the launch “deeply deplorable” and Japan termed it “absolutely intolerable”. Even the isolated state’s sole major ally China expressed regret. The international community is still struggling to reach agreement on how to respond to Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test – of what it claimed was a hydrogen bomb – on Jan 6.
After yesterday's launch, South Korean and US defence officials announced they would begin formal talks on deploying a US missile defence system in South Korea.
The US says the highly advanced Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system would be a deterrent necessitated by the North’s advancing ballistic missile programme.
But China and Russia fear it could trigger an arms race in a delicately balanced region. United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon called the North’s actions “deeply deplorable” and demanded it “halt its provocative actions and return to compliance with its international obligations”.
At Seoul’s request, the UN Security Council was due to hold emergency talks on the launch last night. The United States and its allies want to intensify sanctions. But veto-wielding council member China, Pyongyang’s main trading partner and oil supplier, has in the past blocked tougher measures. Washington denounced the launch as “destabilising and provocative”.
“North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programmes represent serious threats to our interests – including the security of some of our closest allies – and undermine peace and security in the broader region,” National Security Adviser Susan Rice said.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the North’s actions “absolutely intolerable”.
Russia termed the launch a serious blow to regional security including that of Pyongyang itself.
“It is obvious that such actions lead to a serious aggravation of the situation on the Korean peninsula and North-east Asia on the whole... [and] inflict serious damage to the security of the countries of the region, first and foremost North Korea itself,” the Russian foreign ministry said.
Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg said the launch was a blatant breach of five UN resolutions.