- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 5, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - North Korea’s defiant rocket launch has confronted President Barack Obama with his first global security crisis and a difficult diplomatic challenge for his young administration.

U.S. officials reacted quickly and sharply to the launch. In language they had used for weeks while the North set a timetable, they said it was “provocative” and a threat to stability in an already tense region that includes Japan and South Korea, two of America’s staunchest Asian allies.

The U.N. Security Council planned to meet in emergency session at Japan’s request late Sunday. Obama, traveling in Europe, called for international consensus to condemn the launch of what the North claimed was a satellite. The U.S. and others say it violates a U.N. ban on ballistic missile activity by the communist state even though the satellite failed to reach orbit.

“North Korea broke the rules once again by testing a rocket that could be used for long range missiles,” Obama said in a speech on nuclear proliferation in the Czech Republic.

“This provocation underscores the need for action _ not just this afternoon at the U.N. Security Council _ but in our determination to prevent the spread of these weapons. Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something,” he said.

“Now is the time for a strong international response, and North Korea must know that the path to security and respect will never come through threats and illegal weapons,” Obama said to applause. “All nations must come together to build a stronger, global regime … we must stand shoulder to shoulder to pressure the North Koreans to change course.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, traveling with Obama, worked to build that consensus. She called the foreign ministers of China, Japan and Russia to chart a course ahead before the Security Council meeting.

Isolated North Korea is already subject to a wide array of U.S., U.N. and other international penalties. Obama warned that the North would not see better relations with the outside world “unless it abandons its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.”

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that the launch “merits an appropriately strong United Nations response. She said the U.S. and its allies would seek to toughen existing U.N. penalties.

Despite weeks of warnings from the United States, Japan, South Korea and others, North Korea launched the Taepodong 2 missile, a three-stage rocket with potential range of more than 4,100 miles, at 10:30 p.m. EDT Saturday, according to U.S. and South Korean officials. They said the payload never reached orbit despite the North’s claim of success.

A U.N. Security Council resolution bars the country from ballistic missile-related activities of any kind. It was passed in 2006 after North Korea detonated a nuclear device, prompting a flurry of diplomatic activity to get it to abandon its atomic weapons program. Talks involving China, Japan, Russia, North and South Korea, and the United States had made limited progress until stalling last year.

As part of those talks, the Bush administration removed North Korea from a terrorism blacklist. Some lawmakers had called for restoring the designation in the event of a missile launch, but Obama aides say no decision has been made.

And, even as the North prepared for Sunday’s launch and international pressure to refrain from the test intensified, the U.S. says it wants to return to the negotiations.

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