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BEIJING -- A North Korean rocket broke apart shortly after being launched from its base today, according to U.S., Japanese and South Korean officials.
Japan’s defense ministry said the rocket flew for just over a minute.
A South Korean defense ministry spokesman said, “The missile separated into several pieces and fell.”
The ministry said the rocket traveled about 70 miles into the air, then split into four pieces and fell. Major parts fell into the North Korean side of the sea and debris fell into the Gunsan Sea off the southwest coast of South Korea.
There were no immediate reports of debris falling onto land.
U.S. officials told The Times that the rocket did not travel as far as a long-range missile tested by North Korea in 2009. The Kwangmyongsong-2 rocket launched in 2009 was said to have traveled about 2,000 miles.
[Updated Thursday, April 12, 6:29 p.m.: North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command officials said in a statement that initial indications are that the first stage of the three-stage missile fell into the sea 102 miles west of Seoul. The other two stages were believed to have failed.]
Today’s three-stage Unha-3 rocket emblazoned with a North Korean flag lifted off from a missile base near the west coast city of Sinuiju at 7:39 a.m., South Korean officials said. North Korea claimed the rocket was carrying a weather satellite into orbit.
It said the satellite was designed to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, founding father of the North Korean state.
But the Obama administration had warned the rocket launch would violate North Korean commitments to halt all testing of ballistic missiles, and it vowed to halt plans to ship emergency food aid to the impoverished country if the launch was carried out.
Even a failed launch would appear to shut down prospects for a new round of talks on North Korea’s nuclear program. Statements from Washington and Pyongyang at the end of February had held out the prospect of renewed talks based on a North Korean promise to suspend uranium enrichment, allow foreign inspectors into the country and put a moratorium on missile tests.
In return, the U.S. offered to supply North Korea with 240,000 tons of food aid.
The White House has yet to formally react to the launch. [Updated Thursday, April 12, 7:11 p.m.: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney released a statement late Thursday calling North Korea's failed rocket launch a provocation and a waste of money when its people are in dire need of food.]
Pyongyang conducted three previous long-range launches but has not succeeded in sending a satellite into orbit, although it has claimed otherwise.
-- Jung-yoon Choi in Seoul, Barbara Demick in Beijing with Kathleen Hennessey and Ken Dilanian in Washington
Photo: A North Korean news center worker, second right, tries to appease foreign journalists desperate for news on the launch at the center in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Friday. Credit: Ng Han Guan / Associated Press