“Scientists, technicians and experts are now looking into the cause of the failure,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said in a brief dispatch, without elaborating.
It was the first time Pyongyang acknowledged failure in a long-range rocket launch.
The announcement came more than four hours after North Korea went ahead with the launch of a long-range rocket early Friday morning, despite repeated warnings from the international community.
The South Korean Defense Ministry said the rocket exploded into about 20 pieces over the West Sea between one and two minutes after takeoff.
It said the Aegis-equipped Sejong the Great destroyer had been deployed to the West Sea to monitor the rocket’s launch and track its path.
Debris from the rocket appears to have fallen in waters about 100-150 kilometers off South Korea’s western port city of Gunsan, before the separation of its first and second stages, ministry officials said.
The military began scouring the area, which is within South Korea’s exclusive economic zone, to recover debris.
Pyongyang had planned the launch in celebration of the centenary of its late founder Kim Il-sung’s birth on Sunday.
The U.S. and its allies said in one voice on Friday that the launch clearly violated U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874 banning ballistic missile technology.
Pyongyang’s testing of long-range missile technology through a satellite launch began in 1998 when it launched Kwangmyongsong-1 from the Musudan-ri facility using a Paektusan rocket, which failed. The North launched Kwangmyongsong-2 in 2009, also a failure.
The rocket launch on Friday raises the possibility of a third nuclear test in the North, analysts said.
The North conducted its first nuclear test in October 2006, three months after a launch of the Taepodong-2, and the second nuclear test in May 2009, one month after the Kwangmyongsong-2 launch.
“It is very likely that the North could conduct a third nuclear test, just as it did in 2006 and 2009,” said Yoon Deok-min, professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security.
“The North will ask the U.S. to resume talks but an angry U.S. is not likely to accept it. Then, the North is likely to go for a third nuclear test,” he said.
To seek follow-up responses and measures, the U.N. Security Council convened in Washington at 11 p.m., Seoul time, Friday.
Even though the rocket failed, the launch itself was a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, a South Korean official said.
“It used to take seven to 10 days for the meeting outcome to be announced. But this time, it could take shorter. What matters is not a form ― be it a resolution or a presidential statement ― but what kind of message they will deliver,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
While G-8 countries ― the U.K., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the U.S. ― condemned the launch in a statement, China remained silent.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed to take “resolute” action against the North’s launch in a 10-minute phone conversation.
“The two shared the view that the international community should send a clear and strong message to North Korea,” the official said.
The South Korean government immediately and strongly condemned the North for ignoring the international community’s repeated warnings to cancel the launch.
Kim said North Korea will be held accountable for its act.
He said it was deplorable that Pyongyang, which suffers a chronic food shortage, squandered massive resources for development of nuclear weapons and missiles
By Kim Yoon-mi (email@example.com)