North Korea, rejecting international criticism, launched a rocket late Saturday night in what could be a step toward putting a nuclear warhead on a missile capable of reaching the U.S. and beyond.
President Obama called the launch — which defied Washington, Tokyo and others who suspect it was a cover for a test of its long-range missile technology — a move that threatens the security of nations "near and far."
Obama condemned North Korea for threatening the peace and stability of nations "near and far." The U.S. and its allies vowed to press for stronger economic sanctions at Sunday's emergency session of the U.N. Security Council, requested by Japan just minutes after liftoff.
U.S. defense officials told FOX News "nothing went into orbit" and any space launch of a satellite was therefore unsuccessful. The officials also said two stages of the missile fell into the Pacific.
"Stage one of the missile fell into the Sea of Japan. The remaining stages along with the payload itself landed in the Pacific Ocean. No object entered orbit and no debris fell on Japan," North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and Northern Command said.
Click to view photos | Satellite image of the launch area
FAST FACTS: A Glance at North Korea's Missile Arsenal.
NORAD and NORTHCOM "assessed the space launch vehicle as not a threat to North America or Hawaii and took no action in response to this launch."
A senior defense official told FOX News the missile "never posed a threat" and "defensive measures were not needed."
Pyongyang claims it launched an experimental communications satellite into orbit Sunday and that it's transmitting data and patriotic songs. Kim's critics claim he really was testing a ballistic missile capable of hitting U.S. territory.
While the rogue communist state has repeatedly been belligerent and threatening — as it was when it carried out an underground nuclear blast and tested ballistic missiles in recent years — Pyongyang showed increased savvy this time that may make severe punishment more complicated than ever.
Unlike its previous provocations, the North notified the international community that the launch was coming and the route the rocket would take. Using a possible loophole in sanctions imposed after the 2006 nuclear test that barred the North from ballistic missile activity, the government claimed it was exercising its right to peaceful space development.
The U.S. said nuclear-armed North Korea clearly violated the resolution, but objections from Russia and China — the North's closest ally — will almost certainly water down any strong response. Both have Security Council veto power.
"We feel very strongly that what occurred today was a violation of that resolution," Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., told ABC's "This Week" on Sunday. "So we will go back and work ... to both toughen existing regimes, but to add to that resolution."
Analysts say sanctions imposed after the North's underground nuclear test in 2006 appear to have had little effect because implementation was left up to individual countries, some of which showed no will to impose them.
Kim is reportedly a big film buff, and his strategy appears to have borrowed heavily from the 1959 movie "The Mouse That Roared," about a fictional poor country that declares war on the U.S., expecting to lose and get aid like the Marshall Plan that Washington used to help rebuild its World War II foes.
In Kim's case, negotiation has always been about brinksmanship — develop nuclear weapons and tell everybody you're ready to use them. Rather than risk confrontation, world leaders have offered aid and concessions, figuring that such costs are better than finding out if the mouse really can roar.
In a statement released just hours after the launch, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said North Korea had informed Moscow ahead of time, and Russian radars tracked it.
Russia urges "all states concerned to show restraint in judgments and action," Nesterenko said in the statement.
Despite its policy of "juche," or "self-reliance," communist North Korea is one of the world's poorest countries, has few allies and is in desperate need of outside help. The money that flowed in unconditionally from neighboring South Korea for a decade dried up when conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office in 2008.
Pyongyang has little collateral, and for years has used its nuclear weapons program as its trump card, promising to abandon its atomic ambitions in exchange for aid and then dangling the nuclear threat when it doesn't get its way.
It's been an effective strategy so far, with previous missile launches drawing Washington to negotiations. The North also has reportedly been selling missile parts and technology to whoever has the cash to pay for it.
So what does Kim want? The list is long: food for his famished people, fuel and — perhaps most importantly — direct talks and relations with Washington.
Right now, the main contact is through six-nation talks aimed at getting Pyongyang to give up its worrisome nuclear weapons program. But that means dealing with two neighbors that the North despises most, Japan and South Korea.
It probably isn't a coincidence that the rocket was fired over Japan. North Korea had warned that debris might fall off Japan's northern coast when the rocket's first stage fell away, so Tokyo positioned batteries of interceptor missiles on its coast and radar-equipped ships off its northern seas to monitor the launch. Nary a shot was necessary.
Obama warned the launch would further isolate the reclusive nation. But pragmatism calls for engagement, especially with efforts to get North Korea back to the negotiating table for the six-party talks.
"We must deal with North Korea as we find it, not as we would like it to be," Stephen Bosworth, the U.S. envoy on North Korea, said Friday. "I've long since suppressed my tendency toward frustration. What is required is patience and perseverance."
Kim Keun-sik, a North Korea expert at South Korea's Kyungnam University, said the launch would chill ties between Pyongyang and Washington, but likely not for long.
"Wouldn't they eventually come to hold talks? There is no other way," Kim said.
U.S. officials also are trying to obtain the release of two American journalists recently detained by the North along its border with China. Paik Hak-soon, an analyst at the Sejong Institute think tank, predicted they would be used as bargaining chips, with the North likely "to try to link them to the nuclear and missile talks."
Iran, which also has a contentious relationship with the international community over its nuclear program and is believed to have cooperated extensively with North Korea on missile technology, defended the launch.
"North Korea, like any other country, has the right to enter space," Iran's state TV said in a commentary, adding that the "pressure on North Korea to give up its undisputable right" was "unfair and dishonest."
FOX News' Justin Fishel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.