SEOUL, April 13 (Yonhap) -- North Korea acknowledged Friday its long-range rocket failed to put a satellite into orbit, while South Korea, the United States and other regional powers condemned the lift-off as a provocative act.
"The earth observation satellite failed to enter its preset orbit," the official Korean Central News Agency said in a brief dispatch, noting scientists, technicians and experts were looking into the cause of the failure.
The rare admission came hours after South Korea and the U.S. said the launch seen as a test of a ballistic missile ended in failure soon after the blast off on Friday morning.
The Unha-3 rocket exploded in just one to two minutes after lift-off at 7:39 a.m. and disintegrated into about 20 pieces as it crashed into international waters off South Korea's west coast, according to South Korea's Defense Ministry.
The ministry said South Korea's military was searching the area to try to recover rocket fragments. The North has threatened to immediately and mercilessly retaliate against any country that intercepts a North Korean rocket booster or collects the rocket debris.
The North's official admission of a failed rocket launch came more than four hours after the launch.
South Korea condemned the rocket launch as a provocative threat to peace and stability in Northeast Asia and pressed the North to take full responsibility for any repercussions.
"Despite the failure of its attempted missile launch, North Korea's provocative action threatens regional security, violates international law and contravenes its own recent commitments," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.
Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged to take "resolute" action against the launch and agreed to refer the issue to the U.N. Security Council, an official said.
During a 10-minute conversation, Kim and Clinton "shared the view that the international community should send a clear and strong message to North Korea," the official said on the condition of anonymity.
The U.N. body has already slapped tightened sanctions on the communist country over its previous missile and nuclear tests.
The failure came as North Korea's rubber-stamp parliament was to hold a session on Friday, the latest in a string of political events apparently aimed at consolidating new leader Kim Jong-un's power.
On Wednesday, Kim assumed the top post of the country's ruling Workers' Party in a special session. He was named the party's first secretary and also elected as a member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the party's Central Committee.
There is no word yet in the KCNA whether the North's Supreme People's Assembly has convened.
Meanwhile, the North's Rodong Sinmun praised Kim in an apparent propaganda campaign to help boost the image of the young leader who inherited power following the December death of his father, long-time leader Kim Jong-il.
"Kim Jong-un is the sun whom all the party members, service personnel and people of the (North) acclaimed out of their heartfelt desire," the newspaper said Friday in an editorial carried by the KCNA.