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Failed rocket embarrasses North Korea

    A North Korean walked past a propaganda billboard today in Pyongyang, North Korea.

PYONGYANG, North Korea » North Korea’s much-anticipated rocket launch ended quickly in failure early today, splintering into pieces over the Yellow Sea soon after takeoff.

North Korea acknowledged in an announcement broadcast on state TV that a satellite launched hours earlier from the west coast failed to enter into orbit. The U.S. and South Korea also declared the launch a failure.

The Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite was fired from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in Tongchang-ri on the west coast at 7:38 a.m. but failed to reach orbit, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said.

The launch nevertheless rattled the United States and its allies, with the Pentagon dispatching the giant Sea-Based X-Band Radar to sea from Hawaii ahead of the launch.

A half-dozen U.S. Navy anti-missile ships with detection and shoot-down capability also were standing by in the region, according to CBS News.

Two Pearl Harbor-based Aegis ballistic missile defense destroyers had their missions altered, with the USS Russell’s seven-month deployment extended and the USS O’Kane rerouted in the Sea of Japan.

U.S. Navy minesweepers and other ships are in the area and expected to now begin scouring the seas for debris from the rocket, which can offer evidence of what went wrong and what rocket technology North Korea has.

In response to the launch, Washington announced it was suspending plans to contribute food aid to the North in exchange for a rollback of its nuclear programs.

The U.S., Japan, Britain and other nations had been urging North Korea to cancel a launch seen as a covert test of the rocket technology that could be also used to send a long-range missile to strike the U.S.

North Korea refused to back down, saying the rocket would carry only a civilian satellite, touting it as a major technological achievement to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung, on Sunday.

Still, the rocket failure is a major embarrassment for Pyong­yang, which invited dozens of international journalists to observe the rocket launch and other celebrations.

It has staked its pride on the satellite, seeing it as a show of strength amid persistent economic hardship while Kim Il Sung’s young grandson, Kim Jong Un, solidifies power following the death of his father, longtime leader Kim Jong Il, four months ago.

"It blows a big hole in the birthday party," said Victor Cha, former director for Asia policy in the U.S. National Security Council, contacted in Washington. "It’s terribly embarrassing for the North."

He said the next step would be to watch whether North Korea conducts a nuclear test, as has been speculated by the South Korean intelligence community. North Korea is reportedly making preparations for such a test soon.

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