U.S. officials say a rocket launched by North Korea failed moments after being fired, but the Obama administration still described the launch as a "provocative action" that threatens regional security. It said it has lost confidence in Pyongyang and would carry out its threat to halt a planned delivery of food aid to the communist country.
In a statement, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the actions of the North Korean regime were further isolating it from the international community.
"While this action is not surprising, given North Korea's pattern of aggressive behavior, any missile activity by North Korea is of concern to the international community," Carney said.
His statement came after the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command said the first stage of the North Korean rocket fell to the Yellow Sea and that the remaining stages failed.
North Korea had said for weeks it would launch a satellite over the East China Sea. The North says its satellite launch is not prohibited, and is, part of celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of the regime's founder, the late Kim Il Sung. It claims it was a peaceful mission to place a satellite in space.
The U.S. and much of the rest of the world, however, consider it a test of a long-range missile.
An administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive developments, said the planned delivery of food aid to North Korea depended on monitoring agreements with Pyongyang that would ensure the assistance would reach the people of North Korea, not the elites and the military. The official said the U.S. now has no confidence those agreements can be implemented.
The U.N. Security Council, where the United States is currently serving in the rotating presidency, would meet on Friday morning to discuss the North Korean action, an official said.
But the U.S. is not expected to seek an additional Security Council resolution against North Korea. Another administration official said existing sanctions resolutions against North Korea are adequate and said their enforcement could be "ratcheted up."
The administration believes U.S. sanctions against North Korea, particularly on its ability to obtain advanced electronics for guidance systems, have restricted its proliferation activities..
"North Korea's long-standing development of missiles and pursuit of nuclear weapons have not brought it security - and never will," Carney said in his statement. "North Korea will only show strength and find security by abiding by international law, living up to its obligations, and by working to feed its citizens, to educate its children and to win the trust of its neighbors."
The North Korean action promptly injected itself into U.S. politics, with the Republican's likely presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, accusing the Obama administration of "incompetence" that he said emboldened North Korea to launch the rocket.
"Instead of approaching Pyongyang from a position of strength, President Obama sought to appease the regime with a food-aid deal that proved to be as naïve as it was short-lived," Romney said.
The launch erases gains the Obama administration had claimed in nudging the North Koreans back to international disarmament talks and leaves the problem of an unpredictable nuclear-equipped North Korea little changed from where Obama found it when he took office. Obama had hoped to use food aid to spur true negotiations and has few other means to draw North Korean to the bargaining table without embarrassing concessions.
AP National Security Writer Anne Gearan contributed to this report.