Last updated: February 19. 2013 9:53PM - 161 Views

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PYONGYANG, North Korea — In Pyongyang, North Koreans clinked beer mugs and danced in the streets to celebrate the country's first satellite in space. In Washington, Seoul and Tokyo, leaders pushed for consequences for Wednesday's successful rocket launch, widely seen as a test that takes the country one step closer to being capable of lobbing nuclear bombs over the Pacific.


The surprising, successful launch of a three-stage rocket — similar in design to a model capable of carrying a nuclear-tipped warhead as far as California — raises the stakes in the international standoff over North Korea's expanding atomic arsenal. As Pyongyang refines its technology, its next step may be conducting its third nuclear test, experts warn.


The U.N. Security Council, which has punished North Korea repeatedly for developing its nuclear program, was meeting behind closed doors Wednesday on the launch. The White House called the launch a highly provocative act that threatens regional security, and even the North's most important ally, China, expressed regret.


In Pyongyang, however, pride over the scientific advancement outweighed the fear of greater international isolation and punishment. North Korea, though struggling to feed its people, is now one of the few countries to have successfully launched a working satellite into space from its own soil; bitter rival South Korea is not on the list, though it has tried.


It's really good news, North Korean citizen Jon Il Gwang told The Associated Press as he and scores of other Pyongyang residents poured into the streets after a noon announcement to celebrate the launch by dancing in the snow. It clearly testifies that our country has the capability to enter into space.


Wednesday's launch was North Korea's fourth bid since 1998. An April launch failed in the first of three stages, raising doubts among outside observers whether North Korea could fix what was wrong in just eight months, but those doubts were erased Wednesday.


The Unha rocket, named after the Korean word for galaxy, blasted off from the Sohae launch pad in Tongchang-ri, northwest of Pyongyang, shortly before 10 a.m. (0100 GMT), just three days after North Korea indicated that technical problems might delay the launch.


A South Korean destroyer patrolling the waters west of the Korean Peninsula immediately detected the launch. Japanese officials said the first rocket stage fell into the Yellow Sea and a second stage fell into the Philippine Sea hundreds of miles farther south.


The North American Aerospace Defense Command confirmed that initial indications are that the missile deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit.


But the launch could leave Pyongyang even more isolated and cut off from much-needed aid and trade.


The U.N. imposed two rounds of sanctions following nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 and ordered the North not to conduct any launches using ballistic missile technology. Pyongyang maintains its right to develop a civilian space program, saying the satellite will send back crucial scientific data.


The White House condemned what National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor called yet another example of North Korea's pattern of irresponsible behavior.


The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and fully committed to the security of our allies in the region, Vietor said in a statement. Given this current threat to regional security, the United States will strengthen and increase our close coordination with allies and partners.


Vietor said the international community must send a clear message that its violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions have consequences.


China expressed its unhappiness but called for a moderate response from the United Nations.


We express regret at (North Korea's) launch in spite of the extensive concerns of the international community, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters. He added that China believes U.N. Security Council reaction should be prudent and moderate and conducive to maintaining stability and avoiding escalation of the situation.


Hong said dialogue and negotiations are the way forward.

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