Analysts: Rocket gives NKorea new bargaining chip

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) âÄî North Korea’s new rocket launch gives the communist country another bargaining chip in negotiations over dismantling its nuclear weapons program even if the flight wasn’t completely successful, analysts said Monday. Even with suspected problems in separating the second and third stages, the rocket flew twice as far as any missile the North previously launched. That range falls far short of U.S. territory, but neighbors are concerned by the expanded reach of a regime that claims to have atomic bombs. President Barack Obama and other world leaders called Sunday’s launch a provocation that cannot go unanswered, but the U.N. Security Council was so divided it didn’t even issue a preliminary statement of condemnation. Diplomats privy to continuing talks in New York said China, Russia, Libya and Vietnam voiced concerns about further alienating and destabilizing North Korea. China, the North’s closest ally, and Russia hold veto power as permanent members and could water down any response. Analysts said Security Council sanctions imposed after the North’s underground nuclear test explosion in 2006 that barred Pyongyang from working on ballistic missiles appeared to have had little effect because some countries showed no inclination to impose them. North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency claimed again Monday that the rocket put an experimental communications satellite into orbit, while the U.S. and others suspected the test was a cover for improving technology for a long-range military missile. U.S. and South Korean officials said the entire rocket, including whatever payload it carried, ended up in the ocean. South Korea said the second stage splashed down about 1,900 miles (3,100 kilometers) from the launch site. That is double the distance a North Korean rocket managed in 1998 and far better than a 2006 launch of a missile that fizzled 42 seconds after liftoff. Japan, Guam, the Philippines, Mongolia and parts of China are now within range, but Anchorage, Alaska, is roughly 3,500 miles (6,000 kilometers) from the launch site. Daniel Pinkston, a Seoul-based analyst for the International Crisis Group, said the apparent failure of the rocket’s third stage to separate properly from the second stage raised questions about the reliability of the technology. “They’re still a long ways off” from being able to successfully target and strike the United States, he said. It also is unclear whether the North has been able to miniaturize its warheads enough to load onto a rocket, he said. But John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and ex-U.S. undersecretary of state in charge of the North Korean nuclear dossier, said the launch was still cause for concern. “This is far from a failure. Japan is now clearly in range, and unless you’re willing to kiss Japan goodbye, you have to be worried by this test,” he told The Associated Press. Kim Tae-woo, an analyst at Seoul’s state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, said the launch raises the stakes at the stalled six-nation talks aimed at persuading the North to give up its nuclear weapons program in exchange for aid and other concessions. Pyongyang now can seek more help because it has more to bargain away, Kim said. And, he added, “North Korea is playing a game of trying to manipulate the U.S. by getting it within range, which is the so-called pressure card.” North Korea, one of the world’s poorest countries, is in desperate need of outside aid. It has reportedly been selling missile parts and technology to whoever has the cash to pay for it. ___ Associated Press writers Jae-soon Chang and Kelly Olsen in Seoul and John Heilprin at the United Nations contributed to this report.