UPDATED at 2.15 a.m. EST on 2016-02-07
Defying international warnings, North Korea launched a long-range rocket on Sunday just a month after testing a nuclear device, the governments of neighboring South Korea and Japan said.
The two governments and the United States as well as the international community condemned the launch, which North Korea said had successfully put a satellite into orbit.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry signaled that the U.N. Security Council would take "significant measures" to hold Pyongyang to account for its action, viewed by Washington and its allies as a covert ballistic missile test.
The Security Council could meet as early as Sunday in an emergency session to discuss the launch, which Kerry said was a "flagrant violation" of U.N. sanctions against the hard-line communist state.
"This is the second time in just over a month that the DPRK [North Korea] has chosen to conduct a major provocation, threatening not only the security of the Korean peninsula, but that of the region and the United States as well," he said in a statement.
Kerry said the United States would work with its partners and members of the U.N. Security Council "in a firm and united way" to address North Korea's pursuit of nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities.
U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice called on the international community to stand together and demonstrate to North Korea "that its reckless actions must have serious consequences."
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the launch "absolutely unacceptable," while South Korean President Park Geun-hye said it was "an unforgivable act of provocation" and called on the U.N. Security Council to swiftly adopt strong sanctions.
The move has been anticipated as North Korea updated on Saturday a notification sent earlier to UN agencies that the launch—viewed by many as a long-range missile test—would take place between February 7-14, instead of the previous schedule of February 8-25.
North Korea declared the launch of the Kwangmyongsong-4 satellite, named after late leader Kim Jong Il, as a "complete success." A state TV broadcast carried still pictures of a rocket lifting off cheered on by Kim's son and current leader Kim Jong Un surrounded by military officials.
The rocket was launched at around 9:30 a.m. Seoul time (0030 GMT) in a southward trajectory, according to Reuters news agency.
Japan's Fuji Television Network showed a streak of light heading into the sky, taken from a camera at China's border with North Korea. The U.S. Strategic Command said it had detected what it called a missile entering space, appearing to quash earlier media reports indicating it might have failed during flight, Reuters reported.
A South Korean defense official, speaking to the Associated Press, said the rocket disappeared from South Korean military radars around six minutes after its launch.
Barred under sanctions
Nuclear-armed North Korea is barred under U.N. sanctions from using ballistic missile technology. The rocket launch Sunday is seen as another serious violation of Security Council resolutions, coming closely after its nuclear test on Jan. 6.
Pyongyang, which had said that the rocket would carry a satellite, offered no specific reason for changing the launch dates, but a forecast of clear weather was believed to be the most likely factor, Agence France-Presse reported.
North Korea says its space program is purely scientific in nature, but the United States and its allies believe the rocket launches are aimed at developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of striking the U.S. mainland.
"With regards to the DPRK's insistence on implementing a launch of missile technology in the face of international opposition, China expresses regret," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying was quoted as saying on the ministry's website.
U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Friday had agreed to respond to North Korean "provocations" with an "impactful" U.N. Security Council resolution, the White House said.
Xi told Obama in a telephone call that China is committed to the goal of the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and to maintaining peace and stability, China's state news agency Xinhua said on Saturday.
"The Chinese side supports safeguarding the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions and the international nonproliferation system," Xi added, Xinhua reported.
North Korea announced its rocket launch plans during a visit to Pyongyang by China's top envoy to North Korea, Wu Dawei, in what was seen as a snub to Beijing.
Ed Royce, the head of the foreign affairs panel of the U.S. House of Representatives, said the rocket launch shows that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "has taken yet another belligerent step threatening the interests of the United States and our allies."
"As North Korea works to build a nuclear arsenal capable of hitting the United States it is clear the Obama administration’s policy of ‘strategic patience’ has failed," he said. "This latest aggression underscores the importance of enacting my legislation to strengthen targeted sanctions against this brutal regime.”
Reported by RFA's Korean Service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai and Richard Finney.