Obama Condemns N. Korea Missile Launch, Vows to Pursue Missile Defense in Europe

PRAGUE - President Obama called for swift new United Nations sanctions against North Korea after the isolated communist regime fired a ballistic missile Sunday, a technological stride -- the West fears -- toward the future use or threatened use of long-range nuclear weapons.

North Korea broke U.N. rules once more by testing a rocket that could be used for a long range missile.

"This provocation underscores the need for action -- not just this afternoon at the U.N. Security Council, but in our determination to prevent the spread of these weapons. Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished," Obama said in a speech calling for the long-term abolition of all nuclear weapons delivered at Prague's historic Hradcany Square.

"Words must mean something. The world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons. Now is the time for a strong international response. North Korea must know that the path to security and respect will never come through threats and illegal weapons," he said.

The president learned of the launch at 4:30 am local time when he was awakened by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. He conferred with his national security team by phone and dispatched his chief diplomats -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice -- to begin the push for swift new sanctions.

A joint statement by the U.S. and European Union said the ballistic missile capability is aimed at providing North Korea "with the ability to threaten countries near and far with weapons of mass destruction. This action demands a response from the international community, including from the U.N. Security Council to demonstrate that its resolutions cannot be defied with impunity."

However, the statement offered no suggestions for punishment, instead saying North Korea could rejoin the international community to share in the prosperity and development seen in the rest of Asia.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, who was headed to New York for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council, said North Korea's provocation warrants a response, and the purpose of the meeting "is to underscore the international community's opposition to this violation of international law."

In his speech, Obama said Washington will host a global summit within a year dedicated to securing all known nuclear material.

He also called for the following: A global ban on nuclear testing; a new global treaty that verifiably ends production of fissile material for state nuclear weapons; and the promotion of nuclear power as a response to global climate change, especially in the developing world.

On an issue heavily on the minds of Czechs, the president said the U.S. will continue to pursue a ballistic missile defense system in Europe -- with a planned radar facility in the Czech Republic -- unless and until Iran abandons all pursuit of nuclear weapons.

"Let me be clear: Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran's neighbors and our allies," Obama said "The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles. As long as the threat from Iran persists, we intend to go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven. If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defense construction in Europe at this time will be removed."