South Korea did not lose the opportunity to jab at the North's hurt pride.
"It is very regrettable that North Korea is spending enormous resources on developing nuclear and missile capabilities while ignoring the urgent welfare issue of the North Korean people, such as chronic food shortages," said the South's foreign minister, Kim Sung-hwan.
"It's is hard to imagine a greater humiliation," the North Korea expert Marcus Noland said in his blog at the Web site of the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.
"The North Koreans have managed in a single stroke to not only defy the U.N. Security Council, the United States, and even their patron China, but also demonstrate ineptitude," Mr. Noland said. "Some of the scientists and engineers associated with the launch are likely facing death or the gulag as scapegoats for this embarrassment."
Launching failures are not uncommon even for rich and technologically advanced nations. But in the mythology-filled world of the Kim family, there is little room for failure. The North's two previous attempts to put a satellite into orbit both failed, according to U.S. officials, but both times the government insisted that the satellites were circling the earth and broadcasting songs about its great leaders.
This time, it had to admit to failure, analysts said, because of the presence of so many foreign reporters and because neighboring countries were watching the much-anticipated launching more closely than ever. On Friday, Central TV in the North interrupted its regular programs to report the news. While that indicated that the government was not withholding the political embarrassment from its people, foreign reporters in Pyongyang said four long hours of eerie silence had passed before the government admitted to its abortive effort.
Still, analysts warned, it was not a time for the North's critics to gloat.
The North's admission "suggests that, although a major setback to North Korea's plan to celebrate Kim Il-sung's centenary with a demonstration of high-tech prowess, it is not such an embarrassment that they would try to deny it," said John Delury, a North Korea expert at Yonsei University in Seoul. "There will be more propaganda opportunities over the weekend that perhaps can make up for the satellite's fizzle."
One question that the failed launching on Friday raises is: Where will the new leadership turn now for a much needed legitimation of Mr. Kim's dynastic succession?
"Now it has become more certain that North Korea will raise tensions and go ahead with its third nuclear test to recover some of its lost face, especially if the United States pushes for more sanctions," said Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst at Sejong Institute in Seongnam, South Korea.
By going ahead with its launching, North Korea defied international warnings of censure and further isolation. The United States and its allies had called the launching a provocative pretext for developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that might one day carry a nuclear warhead.
Officials from Japan, South Korea and the United States, which had been monitoring for signs of the launching, condemned it as a belligerent act that endangered regional stability -- even though it failed. American officials said food aid that they had planned to send to North Korea to help feed its malnourished population would be suspended.
"North Korea is only further isolating itself by engaging in provocative acts, and is wasting its money on weapons and propaganda displays while the North Korean people go hungry," the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said in a statement Thursday evening, which was Friday morning in Asia. The United States, Mr. Carney said, "remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and is fully committed to the security of our allies in the region."
One Obama administration official suggested that the failure might speed the North's determination to conduct a nuclear test -- the country's third -- "simply to show that it can." Test preparations are under way, satellite photographs suggest.
A remaining unknown is whether a test would be designed to show off a new weapon made from highly enriched uranium, the newest fuel the North is experimenting with, rather than the plutonium bombs that it tested, with mixed success, in 2006 and 2009.
The launching has been politically problematic for the Obama administration, which only weeks ago completed an agreement with the North to provide food aid in return for Pyongyang's agreement to suspend uranium enrichment and refrain from test launchings of long- range missiles. The administration had portrayed the deal as a promising if fragile advance that would allow nuclear monitors back into the country after years when the nuclear program continued unchecked.
The administration says it specifically told the North Korean negotiators that the deal was off if satellites were launched, as it considers such launchings a pretext for missile tests. But that requirement was not put in writing. Critics questioned the administration's decision to go ahead without a written commitment, given the North Koreans' history of breaking international agreements. But the administration insisted that it had not fallen into the same trap as past administrations -- which made concessions only to have North Korea renege on deals -- because the United States had not yet delivered the food aid.
A senior White House official said the failure of the rocket launching would probably hurt North Korea's effort to sell weapons - - easing somewhat the fears of Pyongyang as a nuclear proliferator. It also proved the effectiveness of the heavy sanctions in place on North Korea, the official said, since the measures have deprived the country of access to metals and other technical components for a viable ballistic-missile program.
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