(Reuters) – North Korea said its much hyped long-range rocket launch failed on Friday, in a very rare and embarrassing public admission of failure by the hermit state and a blow for its new young leader who faces international outrage over the attempt.
The isolated North, using the launch to celebrate the 100th birthday of the dead founding president Kim Il-sung and to mark the rise to power of his grandson Kim Jong-un, is now widely expected to press ahead with its third nuclear test to show its military strength.
“The possibility of an additional long-range rocket launch or a nuclear test, as well as a military provocation to strengthen internal solidarity is very high,” a senior South Korean defense ministry official told a parliamentary hearing.
The two Koreas are divided by the world’s most militarized border and remain technically at war after an armistice ended the Korean War in 1953.
The United States and Japan said the rocket, which they claimed was a disguised missile test and the North said was to put a satellite into orbit, crashed into the sea after travelling a much shorter distance than a previous North Korean launch.
Its failure raises questions over the impoverished North’s reclusive leadership which has one of the world’s largest standing armies but cannot feed its people without outside aid, largely from its only powerful backer,China.
“(There is) no question that the failed launch turns speculation toward the ramifications for the leadership in Pyongyang: a fireworks display gone bad on the biggest day of the year,” said Scott Snyder of the Council on Foreign Relations.
In a highly unusual move, the North, which still claims success with a 2009 satellite that others say failed, admitted in a state television broadcast seen by its 23 million people that the latest satellite had not made it into orbit.
The failure is the first major and very public challenge for the third of the Kim dynasty to rule North Korea just months into the leadership of a man believed to be in his late 20s.
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