SEOUL — Defying international calls for restraint, North Korea launched a three-stage, satellite-tipped rocket early Friday, though military officials in South Korea and elsewhere said the test was a prompt failure.
The Unha-3 rocket was fired about 7:39 a.m. local time from its launch pad at Dongchang-ri in the northwestern part of the country, Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters in a nationally televised news conference in South Korea.
But in a major embarrassment on a project timed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korea’s founder, the missile quickly fell apart.
“A few minutes after the launch, the rocket disintegrated into several pieces and lost its altitude,” Mr. Kim said.
The Defense Ministry subsequently added that first- and second-stage debris had landed in the Yellow Sea, some 120 to 130 miles off the South Korean port of Kunsan.
The Japanese government, which has been closely monitoring launch preparation, said the rocket reached an altitude of 75 miles, then broke up into four pieces, which fell into the Yellow Sea.
There was no immediate official announcement from North Korean media about the rocket launch. Although a number of global media organizations were in the country, none were invited to witness the launch, early reports from Pyongyang stated.
The launch had been condemned by the international community because the technology used to launch a satellite into orbit is identical to that used for intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The U.N. Security Council meets Friday to discuss how to respond to the North Korean launch, CNN reported.
Washington said the launch, which North Korea insists was for peaceful purposes, violated U.N. resolutions.
“Despite the failure of its attempted missile launch, North Korea’s provocative action threatens regional security, violates international law and contravenes its own recent commitments,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement that also said President Obama was prepared to engage with North Korea, but the state must first live up to its obligations.
A U.S. official told the Associated Press that the launch means planned U.S. food aid to North Korea will be cancelled.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who has called the launch “a grave provocation” convened an emergency meeting Friday morning.
Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan said his country is “strongly condemning North Korea’s new leadership” for ignoring international warnings to cancel the launch. His ministry was planning to call his counterparts in the Philippines and Australia to gather information about the rocket.
South Korean crews were checking waters off the west coast, while Japanese teams were searching waters near Okinawa for missile debris.