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North Korea missile: punishment up to US

Security Council's struggle to respond to Sunday's rocket launch also portends challenges for Obama's nonproliferation goals with Iran.

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American Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice (c.) and Japanese Ambassador to the United Nations Yukio Takasu spoke to reporters regarding North Korea's launch of a test missile Sunday, April 5, 2009 at U.N. headquarters.

Mary Altaffer/AP

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The UN Security Council's inability to take harsh action against North Korea in an emergency session Sunday – the first such gathering of the Obama presidency – leaves the challenge posed by Pyongyang's launch of a long-range missile in Washington's lap.

That is just where North Korea's attention-starved leader, Kim Jong Il, wants it.

"North Korea was way down on the list of priorities for Obama, but with this one test firing, they have put themselves at the top of his list of things to do," says Chaibong Hahm, a Northeast Asia expert at RAND Corp., in Santa Monica, Calif.

By launching the long-range Taepodong-2 rocket despite warnings from world leaders such as President Obama, Pyongyang is daring the international community and, in particular, Washington to ignore its progress in missiles and weapons delivery at their peril.

Pyongyang claimed the launch boosted a communications satellite into orbit, but US and other officials countered that the test launch was mostly a fizzle. They said the rocket, while demonstrating some progress over a failed launch in 2006, did not attain orbiting altitude before crashing into the Pacific Ocean.

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