The United States military is disputing North Korea's claim that it placed a satellite in orbit, saying whatever was atop last night's North Korean missile launch landed in the Pacific Ocean without making it into space.
In the first detailed analysis of the North Korean launch, a statement from United States Northern Command (Northcom) acknowledged that North Korea had launched a Taepo Dong 2 missile at 10:30 p.m. EDT Saturday.
North Korea's Central News Agency has been reporting that it successfully launched a satellite into orbit containing "necessary measuring and communications facilities" that have been broadcasting songs praising North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. "
Northcom's tracking of the launch indicated the missile passed over the Sea of Japan and Japan. Additional tracking of the three-stage missile showed the first stage of the missile fell into the Sea of Japan and "the remaining stages along with the payload itself landed in the Pacific Ocean."
Further analysis indicated "no object entered orbit and no debris fell on Japan."
U.S. 'Took No Action in Response'
According to the statement, the "space launch vehicle" was not seen as "a threat to North America or Hawaii" and the United States "took no action in response to this launch."
The military's assessment was the first analysis of North Korea's launch since the State Department's initial confirmation of the launch shortly after it took place.
Traveling in Prague, President Obama condemned the launch as a "provocation" and said North Korea had "ignored ts international obligations, rejected unequivocal calls for restraint and further isolated itself from the community of nations."
He continued, "Now is the time for a strong international response, and North Korea must know that the path to the security and respect will never come through threats and illegal weapons."
The U.N. Security Council will meet in an emergency session Sunday afternoon to discuss what potential ramifications North Korea should face for the launch which the United States and Japan say is a violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718 that bans North Korean ballistic missile activity.
Conern N. Korean Launch Was Missile Test
In the run-up to the launch, Washington and its allies had expressed concern that North Korea would use a launch as cover for testing Pyongyang's long-range Taepodong 2 missile, potentially capable of hitting the western United States.
North Korea demonstrated its nuclear capability when it tested a crude nuclear weapon in October 2006, and U.S. officials fear a long-range missile could be developed as a delivery vehicle for such a weapon.
For weeks, the United States had said a launch would be viewed as a provocative act and would carry consequences.
American diplomats conveyed the message directly to North Korean officials in recent weeks through their mission to the United Nations in New York, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates admitted last Sunday there were little that could prevent the launch from going forward.
"I would say we're not prepared to do anything about it," said Gates during an appearance on "Fox News Sunday."
The U.S. Navy deployed several ships to the region to track the launch, including one that was capable of shooting the rocket down if necessary.
In an interview with ABC's Martha Raddatz last month, Adm. Timothy Keating, the head of the U.S. military's Pacific Command, which covers North Korea, said the U.S. military would be ready to shoot down the North Korean rocket if ordered to do so.
"We've got Aegis cruisers, we've got radars, we've got space-based systems, we've got ground-based interceptors. We will be fully prepared to respond as the president directs," Keating said.
Japan had deployed missile-defense systems to attempt to shoot down the North Korean missile if it threatend Japanese territory. U.S. diplomats met with key counterparts in recent weeks in a bid to coordinate a response to the launch.
Washington has been trying to convince North Korea to return to the Six Party Talks, aimed at ridding Pyongyang of its nuclear capability. Negotiations stalled last year in a disagreement over how the other parties would verify the extent of North Korea's nuclear programs.
Two U.S. Journalists DetainedThe United States is also trying to persuade North Korea to release two American journalists detained last month after they allegedly crossed into the totalitarian country from China, where they were interviewing North Korean refugees.
The State Department has said it does not see the journalists' detainment as related to the missile launch and has called for their immediate release. North Korean official media reports say the two will be tried on espionage charges.