PYONGYANG, North Korea – North Korea accused the U.S. of hostility on Tuesday for suspending an agreement to provide food aid following Pyongyang's widely criticized rocket launch, and warned of retaliatory measures in response.
North Korea's Foreign Ministry also rejected the U.N. Security Council's condemnation of Friday's launch of a long-range rocket as "unreasonable," and reasserted the nation's right to develop a civilian space program.
North Korea fired a three-stage rocket Friday over the Yellow Sea in defiance of international warnings against what the U.S. and other nations said would be seen as a violation of bans against nuclear and missile activity.
North Korean officials called the launch a peaceful bid to send an observation satellite into space, timed to commemorate the 100th anniversary Sunday of the birth of late North Korea founder Kim Il Sung. The launch was a failure, with the rocket splintering into pieces less than two minutes after takeoff.
Condemnation was swift, with the U.S. and others calling it a covert test of rocket technology that could be used to fire a long-range missile fitted with a nuclear warhead.
Washington immediately halted a plan brokered in February to provide North Korea with much-needed food aid in exchange for a suspension of its nuclear and missile programs.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Tuesday it was difficult to say whether the North's latest statement could indicate whether its "opaque regime" was readying a nuclear test.
"In the past there's been a pattern of bad behavior," he told a briefing in Washington. "We can't preclude anything at this point."
On Monday, the U.N. Security Council, including North Korea ally China, condemned the rocket launch as a violation of resolutions prohibiting North Korea from ballistic missile and nuclear activity, and directed its sanctions committee to strengthen penalties against the country.
At the U.N. in New York, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the Security Council stood ready to take action should there be "further acts, either missile launches or further nuclear test."
"One would hope, against past precedent, that the leadership in North Korea will see the wisdom of not pursuing further provocations," she added.
Responding to the Security Council's condemnation, North Korea accused the U.S. on Tuesday of leading a campaign to deny its right to develop its defense and civilian space programs.
North Korea's Foreign Ministry vowed to press ahead with its space ambitions, and warned it would no longer adhere to the February agreement with the U.S.
"We have thus become able to take necessary retaliatory measures, free from the agreement," the ministry said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. "The U.S. will be held wholly accountable for all the ensuing consequences."
"Peace is very dear for us but the dignity of the nation and the sovereignty of the country are dearer for us," the statement said, without specifying what countermeasures North Korea might take.
North Korea also faced U.N. Security Council condemnation after launching a long-range rocket in 2009, and walked away from six-nation nuclear disarmament negotiations in protest.
Weeks later, North Korea conducted a nuclear test, its second, and revealed it had a uranium enrichment program that could give scientists a second source for building atomic weapons.