North Korea Launches Rocket, Defying World Pressure

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."

U.S. defense officials, however, 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

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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."

Liftoff took place at 10:30 p.m. ET from the coastal Musudan-ri launch pad in northeastern North Korea, the South Korean and U.S. governments said. The multistage rocket hurtled toward the Pacific, reaching Japanese airspace within seven minutes, but no debris appeared to hit its territory, officials in Tokyo said.

A senior defense official told FOX News the missile "never posed a threat" and "defensive measures were not needed."

Four hours after the launch, North Korea declared it a success. An experimental communications satellite reached outer space in just over nine minutes and is orbiting, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said in a dispatch from Pyongyang.

"The satellite is transmitting the melodies 'Song of Gen. Kim Il Sung' and 'Song of Gen. Kim Jong Il' as well as measurement data back to Earth," it said, referring to the country's late founder and his son, its current leader.

South Korea's presidential office said Sunday North Korea's satellite did not reach orbit as the communist nation claims.

Sunday's move was a bold act of defiance against Obama, Japanese leader Taro Aso, Hu Jintao of China and others who pressed Pyongyang in the days leading up to liftoff to cancel a launch they said would threaten peace and stability in Northeast Asia.

The U.N. Security Council approved an emergency session for Sunday afternoon in New York, following a request from Japan that came just minutes after the launch.

"North Korea has ignored its international obligations, rejected unequivocal calls for restraint and further isolated itself from the community of nations," Obama said in Prague, urging Pyongyang to honor the U.N. resolutions and to refrain from further "provocative" actions.

China, Pyongyang's biggest source of economic aid and diplomatic support, urged all sides to maintain calm and exercise restraint. It offered to play a "constructive role," though some fear it could use its veto power to block a unified response to the launch at the Security Council.

North Korea says the launch of the "Kwangmyongsong-2" satellite was a peaceful bid to develop its space program.

But the U.S., South Korea, Japan and others suspect the launch was a guise for testing the regime's long-range missile technology — a worrying step toward eventually mounting a nuclear weapon on a missile capable of reaching Alaska and beyond.

They contend it violates a U.N. Security Council resolution barring the regime from ballistic missile activity, part of efforts to force North Korea to shelve its nuclear program and halt long-range missile tests.

State Department spokesman Fred Lash called the launch a clear violation of Resolution 1718, adopted five days after North Korea carried out a nuclear weapons test in 2006. The U.S. will "take appropriate steps to let North Korea know that it cannot threaten the safety and security of other countries with impunity," he said in Washington after the launch.

"We look on this as a provocative act," Lash said.

Japan's U.N. mission immediately requested a meeting of the 15-nation council Sunday, spokesman Yutaka Arima said. Mexico, which holds the 15-nation council's president this month, set the meeting for 3 p.m. EDT, spokesman Marco Morales said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he regretted North Korea's move "against strong international appeal" at a time when nuclear disarmament talks involving six nations remain stalled.

"Given the volatility in the region, as well as a stalemate in interaction among the concerned parties, such a launch is not conducive to efforts to promote dialogue, regional peace and stability," Ban said in a statement from Paris.

The European Union "strongly" condemned the launch.

"These actions place additional strains on regional stability at a time when the unresolved nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula requires mutual confidence building," the EU's Czech presidency said in a statement.

At the United Nations, diplomats have begun discussing ways to affirm existing sanctions on North Korea. Envoys said permanent council members U.S., Britain and France are unlikely to secure agreement on new sanctions from veto holders Russia and China, North Korea's closest ally. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions.

North Korea, which says its participation in a U.N. space treaty protects its right to send a satellite into orbit, took pains to alert international maritime and aviation authorities of the rocket's flight path, in marked contrast to 2006, when it carried out a surprise launch.

It was not immediately apparent if the rocket was mounted with a satellite as North Korea has claimed, Japan's chief Cabinet spokesman Takeo Kawamura said.

In Seoul, an unnamed government official told the Yonhap news agency the trajectory of the rocket suggests it was mounted with a satellite but said it was unclear whether it made it to orbit.

"Even if a satellite was launched, we see this as a ballistic missile test and we think this matter should be taken to the United Nations Security Council," Kawamura said.

The first stage of the rocket dropped about 175 miles off the western coast of Akita into the waters between Japan and the Korean peninsula. The second stage was aimed for the Pacific at a spot about 790 miles off Japan's northeastern coast, a Defense Ministry spokeswoman said in Tokyo.

Japan had threatened to shoot down any debris from the rocket if the launch went wrong, and positioned batteries of interceptor missiles on its coast and radar-equipped ships off its northern seas to monitor the liftoff.

No attempt at interception was made since no debris fell onto its territory, a Defense Ministry spokeswoman said in Tokyo, speaking on condition of anonymity, citing department rules.

However, in addition to calling for the Security Council meeting, Japan threatened to add more bilateral sanctions onto those it imposed after the July 2006 launch of a similar Taepodong-2 long-range missile that fizzled 42 seconds after takeoff.

South Korea, which technically remains at war with the North because their three-year conflict ended in 1953 in a truce rather than a peace treaty, put its forces on heightened alert.

North Korea, one of the world's poorest nations, is led with absolute authority by leader Kim Jong Il, who is poised to preside over the first session of the country's new parliament on Thursday. The appearance will be his first major public appearance since reportedly suffering a stroke last August.

Amid the controversy over the rocket launch, North Korea announced last week it would put two American reporters detained at the border with China on trial for allegedly entering the country illegally and engaging in "hostile acts."

Laura Ling and Euna Lee, reporters for former Vice President Al Gore's Current TV media venture, were seized by North Korean soldiers on March 17.

FOX News' Justin Fishel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.