Failed N. Korean launch raises global concerns

April 13, 2012

By Chico Harlan and William Wan, The Washington Post

SEOUL — In the aftermath of North Korea’s failed attempt to fire a rocket into orbit, leaders in Washington and Asian capitals moved Friday to condemn the authoritarian nation while also containing its next move — a balance that has proven elusive during previous confrontations.

Officials in Tokyo and Seoul huddled for emergency meetings and described the launch as a de facto long-range missile test that deserved international punishment.

But some officials also expressed a fear about going too far, a scenario that played out in previous years, when rocket launches prompted widespread rebuke, which Pyongyang in turn used as rationale for underground nuclear tests.

Under new leader Kim Jong Eun, this much hasn’t changed: The North remains one of the world’s toughest diplomatic puzzles, capable of brinksmanship that destabilizes the region, but also adept at extracting aid for peacemaking pledges it later breaks.

Pyongyang hoped to use the rocket, which carried a satellite for weather observation, as the centerpiece of a national holiday weekend to honor the birth centenary of the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung. The failure of the launch, which the North described to its people in a television announcement, could heighten problems for foreign policymakers by giving the North new incentive to overcome this embarrassment.

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