North Korea had said that its rocket launch aimed to put a satellite called Kwangmyongsong-3 (Shining Star) in orbit as it marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of the regime's founder, Kim Il Sung. But the United States and other countries had denounced the move as an attempt to test the country's ballistic missile capabilities. UN Security Council resolutions forbid Pyongyang to carry out missile or nuclear tests.
"There is no doubt that this satellite would be launched using ballistic missile technology," Clinton had said at the State Department just hours before the failed launch.
Clinton also made clear that the moment the rocket left the launchpad, Obama would drop efforts to engage North Korea and would instead pursue further international sanctions.
"Pyongyang has a clear choice: It can pursue peace and reap the benefits of closer ties with the international community, including the United States; or it can continue to face pressure and isolation. If Pyongyang goes forward, we will all be back in the Security Council to take further action," she warned.
"And it's regrettable, because as you know, we had worked through an agreement that would have benefitted the North Korean people with the provision of food aid. But in the current atmosphere, we would not be able to go forward with that, and other actions that other countries had been considering would also be on hold," Clinton said.
Even if Obama still hoped to find a path back to talks or some kind of engagement with North Korea, his margin to maneuver faces constraints from the presidential campaign -- Republicans who have fiercely denounced his approach seized on the launch to claim it has failed. "Predictably, diplomatic overtures with North Korea have failed once more," said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon. "It appears North Korea has continued to pursue its efforts to strike the American people."
And the embattled Democratic president's foreign policy plate is piled high with other challenges like deciding the pace and scope of the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan -- central topic of a late-May NATO summit -- and the tense standoff over Iran's suspected nuclear program.
Obama leaves Friday for a Summit of the Americas in Colombia, but many observers of world affairs will be watching Istanbul, where negotiators from the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany -- the so-called P5+1 -- will sit down for the first time in over a year with officials from Iran. Israel has warned it cannot wait long in the face of what it says is Tehran's efforts to develop the ability to build a nuclear weapon. And Obama has warned that the window for a diplomatic solution is closing, and that he has not ruled out using force.
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