North Korean Rocket Launch Reportedly Fails

Robert Siegel talks to Louisa Lim in Seoul about North Korea's rocket launch on Friday morning.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. North Korean officials said they would launch a long-range rocket as early as the end of this week, and tonight they kept their word. The launch took place Friday morning North Korean time. Across the border in South Korea's capital is NPR's Louisa Lim, who's been monitoring the situation, and she joins us now. Hi, Louisa.

LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: Good morning, Robert.

SIEGEL: And what's happened?

LIM: Well, this is the second launch window for North Korea's rocket launch, and they did launch this rocket early this morning within the last few hours. It was called the Unha-3, and North Korea said it was for peaceful purposes, that it was carrying a weather satellite, but the rest of the world saw it as a test of North Korea's ballistic missile technology. Now, preliminary reports by the Japanese and Americans are saying that this rocket failed about a minute after the launch.

They say that it plunged into the sea, that it didn't pose a danger to anyone, and South Korean boats are not out combing the waters looking for the debris. Interestingly, last night, in Pyongyang, independent space experts were putting the chances of a successful launch at less than 50/50, maybe much less than 50/50, so it looks like they were right.

SIEGEL: Well, given the apprehensions that there were about this launch and the apparent failure of the launch, what is the significance of it?

LIM: Well, inside North Korea this is likely to be extremely embarrassing. The launch of this rocket was supposed to be the centerpiece of celebrations in North Korea for the 100th anniversary of the birth of their leader Kim Il Sung. It was supposed to mark North Korea's emergence as a strong and prosperous nation, and they may have had an inkling that it would fail since the foreign journalists they invited to North Korea were not told about the launch. They were not allowed to watch it in real time.

So they may have had an inkling that might happen. As for the international significance, well, for the U.S. and its allies, everyone has seen this as a test of ballistic missile technology, but the fact is, the two other North Korean rocket launches also failed. This was a chance to see whether North Korea did have a working rocket and so far it's clear that they do not have one, so that might ease anxieties about North Korea's capabilities.

SIEGEL: So what are the likely consequences that we might expect from this rocket launch?

LIM: Well, this launch is against UN Security Council resolutions, and the UN Security Council has announced that it will meet on Friday. I mean, the problem is what steps that it can take to punish North Korea. It's difficult to sanction a country which is already so heavily sanctioned, and as one expert on North Korea told me yesterday, dealing with North Korea is very difficult. Sanctions don't work, engagement doesn't work, ignoring North Korea also doesn't work, and this problem is not going to go away.

South Korean intelligence seems to indicate the North Koreans are preparing for an underground nuclear test. That would be their third. So the problem of how to deal with North Korea is a very present one, and it is going to continue.

SIEGEL: Okay. Thank you, Louisa.

LIM: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Louisa Lim in Seoul, South Korea. Tonight North Korea fulfilled its promise to launch a long-range rocket, and the launch apparently failed.

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