- North Korean rocket and nuclear tests are seen as crucial steps toward the North\'s ultimate goal of a nuclear armed long-range missile arsenal. North Korea says its nuclear and missile programs are necessary to defend itself against what it calls decades of US hostility.
- The Korean border is the world\'s most heavily armed and the rivals\' navies occasionally trade gunfire near a disputed boundary in the Yellow Sea.
North Korea on Sunday defied international warnings and launched a long-range rocket that the United Nations and others call a cover for a banned test of technology for a missile that could strike the US mainland.
The launch, which South Korean officials confirmed about two hours after an eight-day launch window opened this morning, follows North Korea's widely disputed claim last month to have tested a hydrogen bomb.
It will be considered a further provocation by Washington and its allies and likely draw more sanctions and condemnation from the United Nations.
North Korean rocket and nuclear tests are seen as crucial steps toward the North's ultimate goal of a nuclear armed long-range missile arsenal. North Korea says its nuclear and missile programs are necessary to defend itself against what it calls decades of US hostility.
Leader Kim Jong Un has overseen two of the North's four nuclear tests and three long-range rocket tests since taking over after the death of his father, dictator Kim Jong Il, in late 2011.
North Korea says its rocket launches are satellite missions, but the US, South Korea and others say they are a covert test of ballistic missile technology. The UN Security Council prohibits North Korea from nuclear and ballistic missile activity.
The January 6 nuclear test has led to another push in the UN to tighten sanctions. North Korea in 2013 also did a nuclear test and then unnerved the international community by orchestrating an escalating campaign of bombast, including threats to fire nuclear missiles at the US and Seoul.
The Korean border is the world's most heavily armed and the rivals' navies occasionally trade gunfire near a disputed boundary in the Yellow Sea. North Korea has spent decades trying to develop operational nuclear weapons. It is thought to have a small arsenal of atomic bombs and an impressive array of short- and medium-range missiles.
But it has yet to demonstrate that it can produce nuclear bombs small enough to place on a missile, or missiles that can reliably deliver their bombs to faraway targets.
Still, the North's nuclear tests and steadily improving long-range rocket launches push its nuclear aims further along. North Korea has said that plutonium and highly enriched uranium facilities at its main Nyongbyon nuclear complex are in operation.
China regrets North Korea's rocket launch
China, North Korea's main ally, has expressed regret at Pyongyang's rocket launch. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement that although China believes that North Korea should have the right to peaceful utilization of space, "at present this right is restricted by U.N. Security Council resolutions."
The statement says Beijing hopes all relevant parties will calmly deal with the issue, act with discretion and not take actions that may cause further escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has deplored North Korea's rocket launch, which he says is in violation of Security Council resolutions against Pyongyang's use of ballistic missile technology. He says the launch came despite the "united plea of the international community against such an act."
The Secretary-General reiterates his call on North Korea to halt its provocative actions and return to compliance with its international obligations.
The U.N. Security Council has scheduled an emergency meeting Sunday at 11 a.m. EST on the North Korean launch. The U.S., which confirmed the meeting, requested council members to meet along with Japan.
With agency inputs