Angered by North Korea's refusal to heed warnings against it, the US called the testing of a long-range rocket on Wednesday a "highly provocative act" and later threatened to increase sanctions against the country.
The actual launch, which had been postponed several times over the last two weeks, was confirmed by observers in both South Korean and Japan and bits of the rocket debris—likely jettisoned fuel tanks—were reported to have landed in the ocean off the Korean Peninsula and further east beyond the Philippines.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said that the North Koreans "deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit."
US National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor calling it "another example of North Korea's pattern of irresponsible behavior".
The government in Pyongyang, led by Kim Jong Un, says the rocket was designed to launch a satellite into orbit, but governments contentious of the rocket—including South Korea, Japan, and the United States—argued it was simply cover for the testing of a long-range ballistic weapon.
Long-isolated North Korea operates a nuclear weapons program outside the observances of the IAEA and has ignored previous attempts to be corraled by foreign governments.
The United States, the global military power and world leader in both the nuclear arms race and its stockpile of intercontinental ballistic missiles, has long sought to defang the Communist-ruled North Korean government.
The Associated Press reports:
Pyongyang is thought to have a handful of rudimentary nuclear bombs, but is not yet believed to be capable of building warheads small enough to mount on a missile that could threaten the United States.
North Korea said it chose a safe flight path so debris would not endanger neighbouring countries, but there are still concerns over falling debris, and Japan's defence minister issued an order to missile units to prepare to intercept the rocket if it or its fragments threatened to hit Japan. Government spokesman Osamu Fujimura said later that no debris hit Japanese territory.
The first stage of the rocket was expected to fall in the Yellow Sea and the second stage in waters east of the Philippines, according to South Korea. Mr Fujimura described two confirmed debris sites in those general areas after the launch.
The United States will push for a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning North Korea for launching a rocket Wednesday, senior administration officials told CNN.
"We will go to New York with a full head of steam and work hard with our partners on the council to get a tough, swift reaction," one official said.
Washington may push for sanctions similar to those imposed on Iran over its nuclear program, the officials said. The measures would target financial institutions and would designate specific members of the North Korean government for sanctions as well.
"There is a pretty strong commitment to go with a seriousness of purpose," one official said.
It is unclear whether such tough measures would be approved by the Security Council. North Korean allies China and Russia, two of the council's permanent members, could exercise their veto power.