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(News Focus) Botched rocket launch deals embarrassing blow to Kim Jong-un
SEOUL, April 13 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's failed rocket launch appears to have dealt an embarrassing blow to new leader Kim Jong-un who has been seeking to establish his credentials, analysts said Friday.

   The North had claimed the Unha-3 rocket was meant to place a satellite into orbit as part of the celebrations marking the centennial of the April 15 birth of Kim's grandfather, the country's late founder Kim Il-sung.

   The satellite launch was also widely seen as Pyongyang's symbolic gesture to officially usher in a prosperous and powerful nation by the milestone anniversary.

   The rocket exploded soon after lift-off and disintegrated into about 20 pieces as it crashed into the sea off South Korea's west coast, according to South Korea's Defense Ministry.

   In a rare move, North Korea acknowledged through its state media that the earth observation satellite failed to enter into orbit.

   "Obviously the rocket launch is pretty embarrassing for Kim Jong-un and North Korea," Tate Nurkin, managing director of IHS Jane's, said in an emailed comment to Yonhap News Agency. "The timing of it is significant. North Korea is all about ceremony and stature and grand, symbolic gestures and they celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung."

   Paik Hak-soon, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute, an independent think tank near Seoul, also said Kim may "feel a deep sense of embarrassment and frustration," over the failure.

   He also said the botched launch could ruin the centennial birth celebrations, though it's unlikely to damage Kim's status or his power as he is firmly in charge of the communist country.

   The satellite launch coincided with a scheduled session of the North's rubber-stamp parliament, the latest in a string of political events apparently aimed at completing the power transfer to the new leader.

   There is no word yet in the North's state media on whether the North's Supreme People's Assembly has convened.

   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.

   Yang Moo-jin, a North Korea expert at South Korea's University of North Korean Studies, also said the failed rocket launch could have a psychological shock on Kim and the ruling elite, but said Kim can win public support by stressing his decisiveness over the issue.

   North Korea launched the rocket in defiance of international warnings.

   In response, 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, according to a South Korean official.

   Analysts voiced concern that any possible U.N. condemnation or tightened sanctions could push North Korea to carry out another nuclear test.

   North Korea quit disarmament-for-aid talks in April 2009 in protest of international condemnation over its long-range rocket launch earlier that month. The North conducted a second nuclear test a month later.

   Choson Sinbo, a pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan, reported last week that North Korea may carry out a nuclear test if the United States scraps its promised food aid in retaliation for Pyongyang's rocket launch.

   Washington officials have warned Pyongyang that a rocket launch would be a deal-breaker.

   North Korea and the U.S. reached an agreement on Feb. 29 that called for a moratorium on missile and nuclear tests by North Korea in exchange for 240,000 tons of food aid from the U.S.

   Nurkin of IHS Jane's said he believes that North Korea is seeking attention and the concessions that come with that attention to help prop up the impoverished regime.

   "Hostile action could signal the end of North Korea and ultimately we think the North Koreans are all about figuring out every conceivable way to preserve their regime and state," Nurkin said.

   entropy@yna.co.kr
(END)
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