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EUR: Obama leads world condemnation of North Korea

06 Apr 2009 1:50 AM

PRAGUE, April 5 AFP - US President Barack Obama led global condemnation of North Korea's rocket launch on Sunday, calling it "a provocative act" for which Pyongyang must be punished.

South Korea said it was "reckless" and put its armed forces on heightened alert, as did Japan. China and Russia pleaded for restraint as the UN Security Council was summoned to an emergency session in New York later on Sunday.

Outrage poured out of world capitals after the isolated, nuclear-armed Stalinist state launched a long-range rocket carrying what it called a satellite transmitting "immortal revolutionary songs".

The fear is that a similar rocket could be used to fire a nuclear weapon.

"This provocation underscores the need for action -- not just this afternoon at the UN Security Council, but in our determination to prevent the spread of these weapons," said Obama, in Prague for an EU-US summit.

"Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something. The world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons."

The president added: "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."

US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said Washington will seek the strongest possible response from the UN Security Council.

"The US is working very closely with Japan," Rice told ABC television, hours before the emergency Security Council session, after Tokyo called for a new UN resolution possibly involving sanctions against North Korea.

The rocket soared over Japan, but the US military disputed North Korea's claim that its payload had gone into orbit. Tokyo took no action to shoot it down, as it had warned it might.

"It is an extremely provocative action. Japan can never overlook it," Prime Minister Taro Aso told reporters. He said Japan will join other nations to take action against North Korea.

South Korea put its 680,000-strong military on heightened alert as presidential spokesman Lee Dong-Kwan branded the launch a "reckless" threat to global security.

"The government cannot but express disappointment and regret over North Korea's reckless act of firing a long-range rocket, which poses a serious threat to security on the Korean peninsula and the world.

"The government will deal firmly and resolutely with North Korea's provocative act."

The European Union, Britain, France, Germany, Australia and New Zealand joined the chorus of condemnation.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called on governments to unite and "punish a regime that respects no international rules".

"This is a provocation by North Korea. This is a regime that is acting outside international law," Sarkozy said in a French television interview.

On Spanish radio, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said: "We must be concerned and we must all react this morning, because the North Koreans knew they were not supposed to do what they did."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, a South Korean, said: "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."

China, Pyongyang's closest ally, Russia and communist Vietnam urged restraint.

"We hope relevant parties will remain calm and restrained, handle the situation properly, and together maintain peace and stability in the region," China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said.

"We call on all involved states to show restraint in their evaluations and actions in the situation that has arisen," echoed Russian foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko in a statement.

Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone agreed with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in a telephone conversation that six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program should be pursued and countries in the region should act jointly to maintain stability.

Lavrov and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meanwhile agreed to "pursue joint efforts to avert a destabilisation of the situation in northeast Asia," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Lavrov also discussed the issue with his counterparts from South Korea and China, Yu Myun Hwan and Yang Jiechi.