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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
North Korea Launches Rocket
Aired April 12, 2012 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, I'm Tom Foreman in for Erin Burnett. We do have important breaking news this evening. Minutes ago South Korean media reported that North Korea launched a rocket just minutes ago. Victor Cha is joining me now. He's a nuclear weapons expert and the former director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council under President Bush. He's down in Washington, D.C.
Victor, we've been waiting around the clock for this to happen. The launch window today opened a short while ago and now it appears to have taken place. What are your thoughts at this moment?
VICTOR CHA, FMR. DIRECTOR FOR ASIAN AFFAIRS, NATL. SEC. COUNCIL: Well, I think it was pretty clear from the information we were getting in the days before this that they had fully fueled the rocket and that the launch pad was ready. And I guess it was just a matter of finding the right weather conditions under which to launch this rocket. And very clearly, they had the right launch conditions today. Politically, they were able to elevate this young fellow to the highest position within the party the day before yesterday, so politically the stage was set. And now they have done what they said they were going to do for several weeks now.
FOREMAN: So what are we watching for at this hour? As this rocket takes off, obviously for it to sit there fully fueled, the longer it sat there, the longer -- the greater the chance something could go wrong. So they finally have this thing away from the tower as far as we know. What are intelligence services around the world looking at right now?
CHA: Well I think they're going to track it very carefully. They're going to look -- watch the trajectory of the rocket. They're going to gather as much information as they can from what they see in terms of the fuel signature, in terms of the speed, to see whether it stays on course. I think they plotted various possible courses that it could take and see if it takes one of those courses. And essentially, you know, see how capable they are of putting this thing into orbit. It will separate -- the first stage will separate and land somewhere probably west of the Korean Peninsula in the West Sea or Yellow Sea and then the second stage will separate and land somewhere, if it goes all according to plan, somewhere near the Philippines. And then the question will be were they able to put a satellite into orbit. FOREMAN: Victor Cha, we want you to stand by there keeping an eye on the technical aspects of this. As you know, rocket launches like this can be very rapid events. Some of the things Victor is talking about may be taking place as we speak. We're going to keep efforting (ph) live reports from the region to tell you exactly what's happening then.
But right now let's turn to the political front because that is also very, very active at this moment. Let's go to Jill Dougherty at the State Department. Jill, what is the reaction down there? There were so many warnings out of Washington to North Korea to not do this.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Right. And they are ready primed. They're ready to release a statement from the administration should this be confirmed. And what will that statement say? Well we expect one thing that you can immediately say is that they will say forget about food aid. This will not go forward. They have mentioned that before. And the message would be phrased basically we cannot trust -- the United States cannot trust North Korea.
They promised not to do this. They reneged on that and we cannot trust them so, therefore, the food aid doesn't go forward. Then Secretary Clinton today in fact was asked about this. And she said if this happens, we'll be back at the Security Council again for, as she put it, further action. What would further action be? Well, it could be a resolution by the United Nations Security Council or perhaps a statement by the president of the council, which at this point happens to be the United States.
And that would be condemnation. Would they go for more sanctions? Well, you know, officials here say this is one of the most sanctioned countries in the world. So there are sanctions. What they could say is the countries that do have sanctions should carry them out. There are loopholes that they could close. And one interesting thing, you know Victor was talking about the trajectory.
This time as they are launching, they are launching south and that is a very, very busy area with a lot of countries involved. And that might make some countries think twice about being more serious about the sanctions. So -- but other than that, I think, Tom, you know there's not a lot that they can do further at this point.
FOREMAN: I want to talk for a moment, if I can, Jill, if you'll keep standing by because I know there will be developments from the State Department during this hour; this is from our translator about what YTN, television over there, is reporting. Quote, "We believe North Korea has fired the KMS-3 rocket at 7:40 a.m. Korea time." National defense of South Korea is now investigating exactly when that launch happened. The second stage is believed to have fallen around the Philippines already. We were talking about that a moment ago, how rapidly this developed.
The first stage was supposed to fall not terribly far from the Koreas and then the second was to drop in a zone off the Philippines. The last time they launched one of these, the Unha 2 (ph), rocket, this is the Unha 3 (ph). The rocket stages fell where they were expected to fall. However, they were a little bit off in the zone, which made people ask questions about the development of all of that and whether or not their technology was actually that good. John King is joining us also on the political front here. John, what are you hearing?
JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING USA": Well, Tom, CNN I'm now told has confirmation that the launch has taken place. And you're raising both the technical and the political questions. I just want to use the map to show -- just a question here -- just to show a little satellite imagery and you're familiar with this. This is a few days ago and you see the launch pad. It's pretty clear you see some support vehicles up here, but it's pretty clear this was the more recent image. And this is why everybody knew this launch was imminent. It's a bit more hazy because of cloud cover, but look here, look here when you get closer, you see the vehicles -- that to work by giving it a kick a little bit -- it won't work -- we see the vehicles up here, support vehicles much closer to the launch pad.
That is what told officials they were getting ready. This is to bring in the last equipment, then would be the fueling and then you move in from there. And as you were talking just a moment ago with Victor Cha, this is the way it is supposed to go. And you see the flashing circles. The concerns in the immediate hours, in the immediate minutes are in Japan and South Korea, down in the Philippines and Indonesia. Will this rocket break? Will the stages break as North Korea says? That is the immediate concern.
And then, of course, is the question, the question they want to answer at the Pentagon, the question they want to answer in Japan and in South Korea is how much gains, if any, have the North Koreans made in their missile technology since the last test. April 2012, this is now -- this is the Taepodong 3 (ph) or the Unha 3 (ph), as North Korea calls it, this is essentially if you go back and look at it, this is Soviet air technology, 1960s technology that has been refined. The question is how much have they refined it of late.
Liquid fuel in the first two stages, the third stage U.S. intelligence officials say is unknown this time, about 4,100 miles. That means if they perfect this technology, they would be at the point where they could reach Alaska and then they would try to develop further range obviously in the missile. One last thing I just want to show you just for comparison, again, again, here's the big question tonight. It is very similar, this is the missile launch, the rocket launched in April, 2009. First two stages worked as designed. The third stage is where the Pentagon will tell you and other intelligence officials will tell you they had the problem.
They are very similar if you look at today's rocket versus three years ago. The question is as they watch, and they're watching right now, there are U.S. military assets, Japanese military assets, South Korean military assets, Australian military assets and more, the Chinese watching as well is how much progress have they made Tom from April, 2009 to April, 2012. Has North Korea reached a point where it actually can get this missile, this rocket up into orbit? If the answer to this question is yes, the security concerns are multiplied exponentially.
FOREMAN: That third stage is very important as you said John. It's where they've had trouble before. This thing is traveling at this moment, if it's in flight, if it's working, some where around 14,000, 17,000 miles an hour, about 300 miles up in the air if it's all worked properly (INAUDIBLE) actually. No one knows more about how it is being tracked right now and all the efforts to figure out what's going on than our Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Barbara, tell me about the assets that have been deployed and what exactly they're looking at.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Tom, you can bet at this very moment situation rooms across Washington, from the White House to the Command Center here at the Pentagon, to the CIA have all eyes on their visual screens right now. What they are looking at is a variety of data streams coming in at this very moment. There are U.S. intelligence satellites flying overhead -- we know that -- looking at all of the electronic signals coming in to try and determine if this in fact is in flight at this hour, if it is about to have those stages separate and move into space. The third stage, the other stages will drop harmlessly into the ocean, they are sharing that data with Asian countries across that region.
The Japanese, the South Koreans, the Philippines, so there are U.S. intelligence satellites up in the air. We are told there are U.S. aircraft flying, also looking around, seeing what radar data, what electronic data is in the atmosphere that they can gather. There is also something called the X-band (ph) radar. This is a Navy asset floating out in the Pacific tonight. It is on board what is essentially an oil rig. It is a very advanced radar, again, looking into the atmosphere, soaking up all the information they can.
What the U.S. wants to do is to know very quickly if that trajectory really is harmless, if it is going to fall into the ocean. Everybody is talking about could the Asian countries shoot this thing down. That is going to be very problematic. We should know within the next few minutes here as we're on the air what the final answer is to this trajectory, whether in fact it has hit anywhere on land. If it has not they will try and determine where it went into the ocean, so that is the answer everyone is looking at right now.
After that the big question, Tom, is exactly what John is talking about. How did the North Koreans do this? They felt comfortable enough to invite the world's press in, including our own Stan Grant, to watch this thing. That is not something they have ever done before. So they must have some confidence that the technology is going to work. That means where did they get that confidence from? Who out there -- what country, what other nation, what other rogue players were helping them with this?
The key things in this one that people are going to look for is the reliability of the technology, the guidance system, did the trajectory go, did it go where they wanted it to go. So did they get improvements in their trajectory? Most importantly, I would think, is the fueling of this rocket. Did the fuel burn evenly? Did it burn exactly as they wanted to? That's what helps give the boost and the speed and the velocity of this thing to get it into the atmosphere, if you will, exactly where they say they want to get it.
But still, you come back to that bottom line. They say it's a rocket to put a satellite into space. It is in fact the same technology for a long-range missile, someday with a warhead, someday that could potentially reach Hawaii or Alaska. That's what's really at stake tonight as you see those government intelligence experts working late into the night to figure out what's going on -- Tom.
FOREMAN: Barbara, I'm going to let you get back to monitoring it because I know you'll let us know any moment now if you have a sense of whether this launch has failed or if it has succeeded. Stan Grant, as Barbara mentioned, is on the ground near Pyongyang. He joins us now by phone.
Stan, did you have any warning that this was going off? What do you know now?
FOREMAN: We have a difficulty with Stan; we'll try to get back to him in a moment. Paula Hancocks, meantime, is standing by in Seoul. Paula, what are you seeing on the ground there in terms of reaction? What are you hearing?
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're hearing from the Defense Ministry at this point via YTN that they believe it launched at 7:39 a.m. this morning and already we know that the South Korean military has dispatched helicopters and also ships into the waters between China and South Korea to try and find the debris. That was something they had intended to do from the beginning.
This is very important to the South Koreans and also, of course, to the U.S., which is stationed here in South Korea. They want to find out exactly what the makeup of this rocket was and any kind of indication they can have about this rocket from that debris. Now, it's not an easy thing to do to find this kind of debris in such a vast amount of water. Much of it could have broken up on the way down.
But what we know at this point is they have two military vessels that are parading those waters at this point, trying to find any indication of that debris. We also know that this rocket, according to YTN, did go over one of the South Korean islands, the furthest North, closest to North Korea, and they had an evacuation plan in place. They said as soon as they knew that the rocket was -- had been launched, they were going to put people into shelters to try and make sure that they weren't going to be injured in any way by any of the debris.
And of course this is very close to the rocket that -- to the island that was actually shelled by North Korea just a year and a half ago. So those islands that this rocket went over were definitely on a very high state of alert. So at this point we have South Korea military vessels in the water trying to find the debris -- Tom.
FOREMAN: And Paula, as much as people may be worried around the world as North Korea tries to expand its nuclear capability and its ballistic missile capability, the concern must just be even more pronounced for those immediate neighbors in Asia.
HANCOCKS: Absolutely, and certainly officials have been very tight-lipped about this rocket launch here in South Korea. They have been very concerned about saying the wrong thing. They have been very concerned about showing any of the preparations. But we know that they had every intention of shooting down this rocket, if they thought it was going to affect South Korean citizens. If they thought any part of this rocket or any debris was going to fall on South Korean territory, they would shoot it down.
They also had a couple of destroyers in the waters constantly waiting. The military across the country was on a heightened state of alert. So they certainly were very prepared for this rocket launch. But again, I have to say, South Korea has seen this before. There is a case that they have been living with these tensions for many decades now.
So certainly for people on the street here in Seoul, this wouldn't have much of an impact on them. For the citizens in those islands that are very close to North Korea where this rocket passed directly overhead, they certainly would feel the tensions a lot more. And they would have gone into shelters as soon as they knew that the rocket had been launched -- Tom.
FOREMAN: All right, Paula, we'll get back to you in a bit. Let's go back now to Stan Grant. We do have him now on the phone from Pyongyang closest to the launch there. Stan, did you have any warning this was going to go up?
STAN GRANT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Tom, no warning at all. This really came very much as a flash to us. We were expecting it sometime, the window between the 12th and the 16th, but then of course the news breaking this morning that they actually launched the rocket as we've been hearing, confirmation from the United States, South Korea trying to track the trajectory of this rocket as well.
We knew that it was coming. They took us out to the Command Center just the other day, showing us that everything was in readiness; all the preparations had been done. The rocket was on the launch and the satellite was on board. The fueling had taken place and now they're launching it. Of course the question still remains exactly what the purpose here is, Tom.
We know they're saying a satellite, but others are much more skeptical, talking about it as either a missile test or testing the technology to be able to fire a missile. Of course a provocative act the United States is saying (INAUDIBLE) a violation of United Nations resolutions and certainly something that's going to invite consequences as well -- Tom.
FOREMAN: One other question about this, Stan, if I may ask. Did you see anything at all? With no warning like this, it's very early in the morning, 7:39 in the morning, did you or any of the other reporters find yourself in a position to see any of this or did you simply find out it had happened?
GRANT: We just found out it had happened. We hadn't been able to see anything. We had been up since the early hours of the morning in preparation just for this. We knew to expect it sometime in the coming days because they're planning a massive celebration this week for the centurion (ph) of the birth of the founding father of the country, (INAUDIBLE). This was all part of it. All part of their attempt to say we are a powerful and a prosperous country.
This has been timed to coincide with that. We knew it was going to happen but we couldn't get a glimpse of it at all from where we were. Suddenly the news had broke and I think that what they were doing was to hold it back, launch it and then release the images. There was a huge risk if the eyes of the world's media here that something would go wrong and they would be enormously embarrassed. They have been able to fire this rocket apparently and then we're going to hear some more information as it comes to hand. I'm sure we'll get interviews (ph) in the coming hours.
FOREMAN: I want to go to Barbara Starr; we have some latest updates from the Pentagon. Barbara, what do you have?
STARR: Tom, a senior U.S. official tells me that this launch by all accounts has failed. Let me be very clear. This is initial information. The U.S. official tells me that the rocket did make it off the launch pad, but in his words, it may have fallen apart. Basically it broke up at some point after that. So what do we know? What we know is U.S. intelligence assets essentially saw what you and I might think of as ignition of the rocket.
They can see that through a variety of ways, satellites. So they see the rocket ignite. They see it begin, but the indications from the U.S. is that it failed at some point shortly after that perhaps and broke apart. The official says they have no indication at this hour that any of the debris impacted in an area that may have fallen in a populated area, may have hurt people, even inside North Korea.
But what I want to do is be very clear. We are just a few minutes into this. We know the entire flight would have been something like 10 minutes, so it all happens very quickly. The data is gathered quickly. This is the initial read at this point that it got off the launch pad and then broke apart in some fashion.
FOREMAN: Barbara, please stay with us. I want to bring Victor Cha back in because he knows an awful lot about this sort of thing. Victor, I'm going to guess that if this in fact did fail in the early stage, what we're talking about is that massive, big booster that gets everything going and comes off pretty soon, that there was some problem with that or with the separation from the second stage. What do you think?
CHA: Yes, I think that's probably right. I would -- my bet would be the separation at the second stage because they have had that initial problem that you mentioned in the boost phase before in 2006, as I recall. And the problem after that has always been the second phase, so that could be where the problem is, if these -- the reports that Barbara are getting are in fact accurate --
FOREMAN: And explain to us briefly, Victor, if you can, why is this so difficult to get this separation worked out? I know the booster on the bottom, which we think is maybe old Soviet technology, that they got help from the Soviets on this, maybe the Chinese. We know that's a big, big, big powerful engine, but why is the separation so hard to work out?
CHA: Well I mean the way the North Koreans have done it is that they haven't -- you know they pride themselves on sort of their own technology. So these longer range rockets are basically shorter range rockets and rocket engines that are strapped together. So essentially their most successful missile has been the Nodong missile and they basically strapped together four of these Nodong engines and put them on top of two more Nodong -- or put them under two more Nodong engines and they try to blast the whole thing in that fashion.
And so it's all indigenous technology in terms of the missile and particularly the satellite, I mean the Chinese helped them with the first satellite, but I think after -- after these launches in 2009, April, 2009 and this one, the Chinese have really backed off in terms of helping them with this work. So, I mean, this is essentially a country that is trying to do it on their own without international oversight, without international safeguards. You could say the same about their nuclear program.
And that's why it's so concerning and it's so unpredictable. I mean when I was working on some of these issues inside the government and the North Koreans did these sorts of tests, you know you're absolutely petrified because if they fail in the boost phase, you know, depending on when they fail, that determines whether the debris is going to fall on land or going to fall in the ocean. And if it falls on land, you know, underneath them are countries like Japan, South Korea, you know, very serious consequences. So the fact that the North Koreans make clear that they're going to do these sorts of launches gives nobody, who follows this very carefully, any sense of confidence that things are all going to be OK because clearly in this case based on the reports that Barbara got, things are not OK and that this thing has exploded in mid flight.
FOREMAN: I want to bring everybody up to date here. We believe now from reporting in the region that the North Koreans launched the Unha 3 (ph), this rocket we've been talking about for days at 7:39 in the morning and the Pentagon believes it may have fallen apart shortly after launch. We were talking to Victor Cha there a moment ago. That very well could be the first stage or the separation from the first stage to the second stage.
It's important to note that they were seeking a polar route on this. The reason that's important is because when you try to launch on a polar orbit instead of around the earth where you can be assisted by the spin of the earth and by gravity itself, when you do a polar launch, you need more power to accomplish it. That makes it harder in some ways.
We've also just learned that the U.N. Security Council is going to meet on Friday, that's tomorrow, on this North Korea issue following this rocket launch here. Victor, talk to me a little bit more about this question of the political pressure here because you've looked at the whole picture, the technological picture, the political side, the military side. I would guess that one of the real concerns for world governments all over, including the United States government, is what will it take to slow the North Koreans down? They have their own technological problems, but they just keep pushing on.
CHA: That's right. They just keep pushing on. And we haven't been able to deter them. You know, I think that -- again from a U.S. government perspective, I think that the administration planned in advance of this. They probably had internal meetings. They had a plan of action the minute this missile was launched, both a press strategy, and a United Nations Security Council strategy as well as an allied strategy.
I think when they go to the U.N. Security Council as Jill said with the U.S. in the chair, the focus will be on trying to get a unanimous statement about how this is a violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718 and 1874 and will probably try to call on everybody to have more effective sanctions. I don't think they'll go for another resolution, because it's really these two resolutions that contain most of the sanctions. And then I think the play is going to be on China, because China has signed up to these resolutions but the problem has been that they haven't been effectively enforcing them.
And I think the play will then be to put a lot of pressure on China behind the scenes to really start to enforce these resolutions, which include counter proliferation. So that means you know stopping everything at the border between China and North Korea, if possible closing off Chinese airspace to North Korean flights. I mean that's where I think the play is going to be. And then the public, the sort of press strategy will be one in which they don't want a crisis because they feel like the North Koreans strive on crises.
They like to create crises, so they're going to try to be very calm about this and the allied strategy is really going to be focused on making sure the U.S., Japan and South Korea, the three allies in the region, are closely coordinated. That we're all saying the same thing in terms of what we see in terms of the rocket and our assessment of it and in terms of our political positions. I would assume that one of our high-level officials will go out to the region very soon shortly after this. And then the other thing I think is everybody on the intelligence side is going to be collecting data on this, but also watching what is happening at the nuclear site, because, you know, there are concerns that they are preparing for a third nuclear test.
FOREMAN: And that is a pattern we have seen many times before. Victor Cha, hang on. All of our reporters are going to stay on this through this hour, this enormous breaking news. This is expected, but still enormously important what's going on here, because what North Korea is attempting to do is develop a capability that very few nations in the world have if U.S. intelligence is correct and that this is about developing a nuclear program to deliver nuclear weapons around the world. North Koreans say no but that's what they believe. Here's a recap of what's happened. 7:39 a.m. the North Koreans fired off this rocket we've been talking about for days, the Unha 3 (ph). It's about 100 feet tall. It had three stages on it, a powerful rocket that was set to fly south past the Koreas, past the Philippines, essentially not flying over any countries. That was the idea behind it. And set up a polar route. They said that this rocket that you're looking at right there was carrying a weather satellite up with it.
As it launched, intelligence services all around the globe were watching very, very closely. They were looking at the color of the flames, the trajectory of the flight, the telemetry, the overall performance, everything to see what they could find out about this. But what we're hearing from U.S. military sources, our Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, is that they believe the North Korean missile broke apart shortly after takeoff. We will have much, much more from Washington, from capitals around the world, and from the ground in North Korea. Stay with us.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
FOREMAN: Good evening, I'm Tom Foreman. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world for breaking news tonight of tremendous import (ph). A U.S. official tells CNN that early indications about a controversial North Korean rocket launch show that the rocket has failed. Officials say North Korea launched that long-range rocket at 7:39 in the morning local time, that's less than an hour ago. A U.S. official tells CNN that while it got off the launch pad, the rocket appears to have broken apart in flight fairly quickly seems to be the indication. There is no indication that the debris fell anywhere that would endanger people's lives. North Korea has said the rocket was carrying a weather satellite, but many experts say the technology used to launch a rocket like this one is identical to the technology used to launch a dangerous missile -- intercontinental ballistic missile that could carry a nuclear warhead.
The U.N. Security Council has plans to meet tomorrow, Friday, in an emergency session to discuss its next step after this controversial launch. We have teams deployed all around the globe right now, looking at this very closely.
We want to go closest to the launch site right now to Stan Grant in Pyongyang who told us a little while ago -- Stan, that you had no warning this was going up. Is that correct?
I'm afraid we've lost Stan Grant again.
I want to go to Kyung Lah right now who is in Tokyo, one of the countries that was -- one of the -- Japan, one of the countries most concerned about this launch where people said they would try to shoot it down if it came over, the military there.
Kyung Lah, what is the thought there at this hour? What are you hearing? KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're not seeing any movement of these PAC-3 missiles. These are interceptor land-to-air missiles that you see over my shoulder, Tom. This one is in particular positioned in downtown Tokyo. I'm just taking a look at my BlackBerry where I'm seeing that the defense minister just held a press conference and said the same thing that we're hearing out of the U.S., that they did understand that the rocket did get off the launch pad but that it did appear to then break up about a minute after the launch.
So here in Japan, we're not seeing any movement. What we had understood is that the government has said if the rocket started to fall towards Japanese territory, they would shoot it down. But so far, we've seen no movement here. No word of any movement of the Patriot missiles, the interceptors at sea or in southern Japan -- Tom.
FOREMAN: Do you expect a response from the Japanese government, an official response to this launch shortly?
LAH: Yes, we do. The template is already set. We know that the government will be issuing some sort of a statement. They will talk to U.S. counterparts and then work together to try to get some sort of statement out of the U.N. Security Council. That's really the dance that Japan has already known that is going to have out there and that they are expecting those steps now.
FOREMAN: We're going to Paula Hancocks now in Seoul, who's also been watching there in South Korea.
Paula, what are you hearing from the reaction there?
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, tom, we just spoke to the South Korean defense ministry. At this point they say they're making no comment because they can't confirm that it was in fact a failure. They're working very closely with the United States, of course. A very strong presence here in South Korea.
We do know that the search, though, is on for any possible debris in the waters between South Korea and China. According to the defense ministry, YTN saying that two military vessels are combing the area to try and find even the smallest piece of debris that could give any indication to the makeup of this rocket. There's also helicopters in the area trying to track down any indication of the debris as well.
Now, of course there are two South Korean islands very close to North Korea that were in the trajectory of this particular rocket. We did understand that they were going to be seeking shelter when the rocket launch happened, but what we're hearing now is they didn't know that the rocket launch had happened, it had passed over by the time they got the information so things are peaceful there -- Tom.
FOREMEN: Thanks very much, Paula.
We'll look back to you in a short while to see if we hear more out of the South Korea and whether or not they can confirm the notion that this did not work. So, so far, we have confirmation from the Pentagon, the U.S. government saying this was a failed launch, confirmation from the Japanese government saying they also believe that this was a failed launch. And as we know, they were trying to avoid flying over any land, in part because that created so many problems.
If I can get Victor Cha back right now.
Victor, I do want to ask one thing. There was so much talk about the idea people might shoot it down if it came over their area. First of all, that's an incredibly difficult thing to do. It sounds easy, very, very hard to do.
But secondly, I cannot help but think that even if this didn't work, North Korea may very well say that's what happened, they shot it down.
VICTOR CHA, FMR. DIRECTOR FOR ASIAN AFFAIRS, NATL. SEC. COUNCIL: Yes, they may -- they may say something like that. I mean, I think you've put your finger, Tom, on a very important point as we look forward, and that is that, you know, as this is reported on CNN as failing, this is a tremendous embarrassment for the regime. I mean, this was supposed to be the crowning achievement as they coronate this new younger leader on the 100th birthday of Kim Il Sung, a big nation- building effort, and this was supposed to be associated with his ascension to power.
And so, for this thing to fail and for it to be broadcast on the news, even though they are very careful about allowing outside information, that's eventually going to get in there. So, I'm sure they will portray this as something other than a failure or they will blame it on somebody else. But this is -- I mean, for the regime, this is terribly embarrassing.
The second thing I would say is that, you know, I certainly understand based on the reports from Paula and Kyung Lah that the South Koreans may be -- and the Japanese may be going out there to try to find debris. The one thing I would worry about again, as sort of a former official in this situation, you would imagine that the North Koreans, depending on where this first stage fell might also be out there trying to look for the debris and you have the potential for some sort of miscalculation or confrontation.
So that's something you have to be very careful of if in fact everybody is going out into the west sea to try to find pieces of this missile.
FOREMAN: Absolutely. You know, Paula mentioned a short while ago, Victor, the notion that some of these pieces may have fallen, if they fell, near the very islands where we had that incident a couple of years ago. Where the North Koreans fired on some islands and a ship down there and sank it.
If you're looking at the map right now, you see where the yellow changes to the green, those islands, if you go out to the left that, that little peninsula that sticks down, those islands are off that area. The launch area that we're talking about is in the northwestern part of the country there. So if you go to the yellow part that sticks sort of over there left westernmost into China, it's sort of in that region. So again, they were firing south with this.
And, Victor, you raise a very good point there, that you're talking about possibly searching for debris in a very troubled area if, and I do say, if it made it that far. Because if it went off early, even though these things travel very quickly, if it fell apart right upon blast-off, it may not have made it that far down to begin with. But we'll have to see about that. That's where it was supposed to go in the shots we saw there. But I think you raise a very valid point there, Victor.
Let me ask you this. Even in failure, not only will North Korea try obviously politically to make this look good, but the simple truth is science, technology, is about a lot of failure. They will still learn a lot out of this process, won't they?
CHA: That's absolutely right, Tom. I mean the reason you do these tests is you try to learn from them. And just as our intelligence officials will learn a lot from -- about North Korean capabilities based on what happened in this test, the North Koreans will learn as well. And I don't think that this will deter them from trying to do it again.
I mean, this is one of the most important projects that they have undertaken in terms of their weapons, you know, creating a long-range ballistic missile. In this case the satellite launch, but the ballistic missile technology to launch it is a military application. And they're not going to be deterred in terms of not trying again.
Now, of course, they're going to have to go back to the drawing board and figure out what went wrong. But I don't think this is the end of it by far. And that we will see them doing this again.
You know, the other thing I mentioned about the whole satellite issue is that they did show CNN and others the satellite and they keep trying to portray this as a civilian satellite launch. You know, the funny thing about this is that they don't really have a civilian space program.
FOREMAN: And, Victor, I have to interrupt you right there because we have to go to the Pentagon right now where Barbara Starr has another update.
Barbara, what do you know?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, just a brief update, Tom and Victor. A U.S. official tells us these initial few minutes of data that they have collected seems to now indicate to them that the breakup occurred within the atmosphere, that the North Koreans were not able to put anything into any type of space orbit as they wished to, that so-called satellite.
I don't think it's a huge surprise, because the flight time was so short and the belief is that it broke apart fairly quickly after leaving the launch pad. But it's just another interesting marker, and perhaps victor can explain more about it, and the significance that it fell apart within the atmosphere. Nothing actually went into space. So it shows again the limitations of this North Korean technology that they certainly hoped would work a lot better than it apparently did, Tom.
FOREMAN: Barbara, you say a fairly short period of time. Do we have an idea how short a period of time? Because we're talking about a tremendously powerful engine. You get out of the atmosphere about 19, 20 miles up. Granted it's not going straight up. Do you have an idea of how short this flight was?
FOREMAN: Well, you know, some of the experts that we here at CNN have spoken to over the last several days say the entire flight time until the final stage separated might have been eight, nine, 10 minutes. I'll leave it to Victor to correct me. He's a lot more knowledgeable than I am about this sort of thing. But it would have been, I think, within that time frame.
So here's the challenge for the U.S. -- at best, they would have only had several minutes of data to collect to see what really went on here. But if in fact as they say they do believe it broke up very quickly after leaving the launch pad, they may only have a couple of minutes, maybe even several seconds of flight data to look at. So there may be some very limited knowledge about exactly what the North Koreans confronted here with this apparent failure.
But nonetheless, tonight, I can tell you analysts from the CIA to the White House to the Pentagon, U.S. military commands that deal in space and intelligence issues, all of them right now scouring the data that was collected and trying to figure out what it all means, Tom.
FOREMAN: I think it's going to be a long night in Washington for intelligence agencies and for intelligence agencies around the world.
Very quickly to recap for all of our viewers around the world -- at 7:39 a.m. local time, the North Koreans launched this missile we've been talking about so long, the Unha-3. Indications from the U.S. government, from the Japanese government, we're waiting for confirmation from the South Korean government are that it appears to have fallen apart in fairly short order -- as Barbara just told us here, even before it reached space. It was still within the atmosphere.
The U.N. Security Council is going to meet on this tomorrow and Japanese officials say that, as I said, of course, it did fall apart. They were standing by to shoot it down if they needed to at that point.
Let's go back to Paula Hancocks in Seoul who has more news there -- Paula.
HANCOCKS: Well, Tom, we're just hearing from the South Korean defense ministry that they believe that this rocket broke up in the very first few minutes of the flight. They say they don't believe that it even got to the first stage, that the first stage parted from the rest of the rocket. This is what they think at this point. They think it was a very early failure, but they say they are consulting with the U.S. here on the ground as well. Obviously, the tracking systems of the U.S., Japan and South Korea and that information is being shared among the three. But they do believe that it didn't even get to the first stage at this point. That's the latest from the defense ministry.
One interesting thing that Victor was saying to you earlier was obviously these waters where some of this debris may have fallen, if it even got to that point, are very tense. The South Korean two military vessels are in those waters looking for debris. We know there's also helicopters in the air trying to track and help those vessels find any debris.
And, of course, the North Koreans could well be doing the very same thing. We've seen a number of very bloody incidents in these waters, a disputed maritime border between North and South Korea. Remember, just a year and a half ago, North Korea shelled one of the islands there, Yeonpyeong Island, killing two civilians, killing two marines on the island as well.
And certainly those islands were on very high alert during this rocket launch. We understand they didn't know that the rocket launch had happened, so they didn't have time to take shelter, which was the plan.
But at this point, the latest from the defense ministry is they believe the first few minutes was when the rocket failed and they don't believe it got to the first stage -- Tom.
FOREMAN: All right. Paula Hancocks, new confirmation now. We have South Korea now joining Japan and the U.S. government in confirming that they believe that this rocket failed in the very first minutes of its launch there.
This is a huge story and it's worth bearing in mind that this is the worldwide reaction to a failed launch. It gives you an idea of how much concern there was about a successful launch. As we mentioned a moment ago, intelligence agencies all around the world at this moment are scouring the information that they have from this launch and they will be doing so all night. There are developments in the story by the minute.
Stay with us. CNN will be all over the story, all over the world. And will bring you more in just a moment.
FOREMAN: I'm Tom Foreman. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world to breaking news tonight.
A U.S. official tells CNN that early indications show that a controversial North Korean rocket launch has failed. That has now been confirmed by Japan and South Korea as well.
The U.S. official said while the rocket did not get -- did get off the launch pad, it never left the earth's atmosphere and it appears to have broken up in flight quite early on.
The Japanese defense minister says the rocket fell into the sea just one minute after launch and officials say North Korea launched that long-range rocket at 7:39 in the morning local time, just about an hour ago at this point.
North Korea has said the rocket was carrying a weather satellite. They have had no statement yet on the launch that we know of, but many experts say the technology used to launch a rocket like this one is identical to the technology used to launch dangerous missiles carrying nuclear warheads.
The United Nations Security Council with that in mind, of course, will meet in an emergency session on Friday, tomorrow, to discuss a possible response to this controversial move by North Korea.
This story is developing by the minute this evening and the worldwide reaction and analysis is coming in very, very quickly.
We want to go to Washington, D.C., to Dan Lothian, who's at the White House where we're expecting a statement fairly soon.
Dan, what do you know?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, you know earlier you and Victor were talking about the media response to this rocket launch, and in fact this was no surprise to this administration. We have been told earlier on in fact a few days ago that upon the launch of this rocket that the White House would be releasing some kind of a statement. I did hear from a senior administration official who told me that a statement would be coming shortly.
We have not received anything yet, but we can expect that there will be condemnation of this rocket launch. The administration doubts that this has anything to do with a weather satellite. They believe that this is all about North Korea advancing and showing off their ballistic missile technology, not for weather capability or weather satellites.
In addition, what we might hear in this statement from the White House is also the fact that the administration will be pulling back on this plan food aid to North Korea. This, as you know, has always been part of this new agreement between the U.S. and its allies and North Korea, that they would stop these kinds of activities in exchange for food aid to the millions of people there in North Carolina who need that.
No doubt we'll hear in the statement from the White House that that in fact will be taking place because North Korea has gone along with this launch.
FOREMAN: Dan, a little misstatement there, you meant North Korea, of course. Dan Lothian, good reporting. We'll look forward to that statement coming through there. Let's go to Jill Dougherty now over at the State Department -- where, obviously, Jill, a great deal of the planning right now has to focus on this U.N. Security Council meeting tomorrow.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It does. Although that said, you'd really have to say that there's not a lot that they can do let's say in terms of sanctions. They can certainly say, we condemn this, it is bad, et cetera. But realistically, what can they do?
But I think an interesting moment here is that an administration official is telling CNN that whether or not this did fail, it really doesn't change the U.S. response. And that is important, because the principle of this is that North Korea, in spite of all of the warnings from the United States and from others, the G-8 ministers today issued a very, very strong statement -- they went ahead and did it.
So the principle is the problem now, that this missile may have failed, this rocket may have failed, but they decided to, in spite of everything, go ahead.
And I would have to say that it raises issues, also, Tom, of where the United States and the world community goes with the son now, Kim Jong Un, the new leader of North Korea. It has been very unclear what's motivating him. And very shortly now, after he is in power, they do this. So that raises even more questions about the future.
FOREMAN: And, Jill, we'll hear more about that in short order here.
We need to go to Stan Grant, who is now live from Pyongyang with the latest on this.
Stan, it seems to me the North Koreans have a problem now, too. They have a failed launch and they have to have some kind of explanation.
STAN GRANT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And in the eyes of the international media as well, Tom, they brought us here to see this moment. In the end, they didn't even tell us it was going to happen. And now, of course, we're hearing this news that it has, indeed, failed. And what an embarrassment in the year that they celebrate the centenary of the birth of the founder father of the country, Kim Il Sung.
Failure was not an option here. I put that to one of the officials the other day, and he said, this is not just about science, but this has been decreed by the leader, Kim Jong Il himself. So, it was the leadership's authority was on the line with this launch.
Now, we've asked some of the officials around here for some community immediately. Our government minder were denying they even knew about the launch. We are hearing there will be some form of official statement coming in the upcoming minutes.
But, of course, this was not in the plan, was it, to have this go so badly when they brought the media here. It was meant to be a show piece moment, a moment that was going to tell the world that they were a powerful and prosperous nation.
What we have is a nation that's once again failed and now is facing severe consequences from the rest of the world -- Tom.
FOREMAN: Stan, do you have a sense of tension around there, with when they denied that the launch even took place? Is there a sense of tension among these officials?
GRANT: Absolute flurry of activity. There were officials sitting directly across from me in the media center that they've set up here that were surrounded by a crush of cameras, firing questions at them, and they were just trying to bat those questions away. There were people scurrying about, left and the forth. There was obviously a sense that something had happened here, and now, of course, we're learning that that something was the failure of the rocket itself.
When they took us out there the other day and showed us around the rocket, they were so proud of that site. They were saying that this was something that they could stake the reputation of the country on. And it wasn't just about putting a satellite into orbit, there was another message here, that they had the technology to be able to fire a missile as well, that they were able to defend themselves.
This is not also just a message to the international community, Tom, it matters what they now tell their own people. The legitimacy of the government here rests on the power that they present to their own people, the ability to rule with an iron grip and say to the people that they're a powerful nation in their own right. How they're going to spin this, we have yet to see, Tom.
FOREMAN: I'm sure we're going to lose your satellite signal in just a moment, Stan, but I'm guessing that you're expecting that you and the others will soon be hustled out of that country, don't you expect?
GRANT: Well, it's been very interesting from here, because they brought us in not just for the launch, but the celebration of Kim Il Sung's centenary. How are they going to pull that of now?
But we know from this country that they can recreate history. What are they going to say? That it was shot down? That it didn't fail? That this is a conspiracy from the international community?
All of those questions yet to be answered. But you're right, with so many media here, the glare of that spotlight, how are they going to get themselves out of this fix, Tom?
FOREMAN: All right. Stan Grant in Pyongyang, thanks so much for your great reporting there.
Our team is spread all around the globe reporting on this momentous event that happened in North Korea. Very quickly, once again, the North Koreans have fired the Unha-3 rocket. They fired at 7:39 this morning. All reports seem to be that it broke up shortly after taking off and intelligence agencies and governments around the world are now preparing for a meeting at the U.N. tomorrow to talk about what happened and what can be done at this point as the North Koreans deal with what happened here.
Our coverage will continue. Stay with us.
FOREMAN: Welcome back.
Let's go right to our Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for the latest there.
Barbara, as we wrap up this hour on this momentous occasion. What do you know?
STARR: Well, Tom, the Japanese government is now saying that they believe this only flew for a little more than a minute, harmlessly into the ocean, did not impact Japanese territory.
U.S. analysts tonight, intelligence and military analysts, continuing to look at whatever data they have been able to gather from U.S. spy satellites, aircraft, and radars in the region, trying to analyze exactly what happened here, how long it flew, and to try and understand how it fell apart just a short time after leaving the launch pad. That will give them the vital clues to the status of the North Korean program, what their problems were, if they can determine how and why it fell apart, and where the North Koreans may have failed here. That's going to be a valuable piece of intelligence to try and determine what happened.
FOREMAN: All right. Barbara, thank you so much for joining us this evening.
To recap for everybody out there, so you know what's going on here: the North Koreans launched that rocket we've been talking about for days, the Unha-3, at 7:39 this morning.
As Barbara pointed out, the Japanese say it failed after about a minute. The U.S. government also says it failed. The South Korean government also says it failed and fell into the ocean.
All indications are that it was headed, headed toward a trajectory that would have taken it into space, where it would have been traveling 14,000 to 17,000 miles an hour. But that's not the case. It seems like it barely got of the launch pad and at some point, it simply fell apart.
Thank you for joining us for this coverage. We will continue with our global coverage all evening long. I'm Tom Foreman.
And, now, Anderson Cooper picks it up.