(AP) - A defiant North Korea test-fired a long-range missile Wednesday that may be capable of reaching America, but it failed seconds after launch. The North also tested five smaller missiles in an exercise the White House called "provocative" but not an immediate threat.
Ignoring stern U.S. and Japanese warnings, the isolated communist nation carried out the audacious tests even as the U.S. celebrated the Fourth of July and launched the space shuttle, reports Trend.
None of the missiles made it as far as Japan, all crashing into the Sea of Japan separating the island from the Korean Peninsula, officials said.
The U.S. administration made it clear that its response would not involve military action as President Bush consulted with National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. The State Department said Rice conferred with her counterparts from China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.
"It wasn't that he (the president) was surprised because we've seen this coming for a while," Hadley said. "I think his instinct is that this just shows the defiance of the international community by North Korea."
"We do consider it provocative behavior," Hadley said.
Later the White House issued a statement condemning North Korea's "unwillingness to heed calls for restraint from the international community" and accusing North Korea of trying to "intimidate other states."
The U.N. Security Council called an emergency meeting for Wednesday morning and Japan said it would introduce a resolution protesting the tests.
Japan also stopped chartered flights from North Korea and banned a North Korean ferry from entering its waters for six months, chief government spokesman Shinzo Abe said. The North Korean ferry is a major conduit of trade between the two countries, which have no diplomatic relations.
South Korea said the launches would further deepen its neighbor's international isolation, and Australia and Russia denounced the tests as provocative.
Austalia's foreign minister said he expected North Korea would conduct more such tests before the end of the week.
"We think they probably do intend to launch more missiles in the next day or two," Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said after phoning North Korea's ambassador to Australia to lodge a protest.
The North has been in a standoff with the West over North Korea's nuclear program. And the rhetoric has grown increasingly strident with the North vowing Monday to respond with an "annihilating" nuclear strike if it is attacked pre-emptively by the United States.
Talks on the issue held between North Korea, South Korea, China, the United States, Russia and Japan have been stalled since last year over Pyongyang's insistence that Washington drop financial sanctions against it.
"North Korea wants to get the U.S. to direct bilateral negotiations by using the missile card," said Paik Hak-soon, a North Korea expert at the Seoul-based Sejong Institute. "Timing the launch date on July 4 is an attempt to apply maximum pressure on the U.S. government."
U.S. nuclear envoy Christopher Hill was to leave Washington for the region later on Wednesday.
Hadley said the long-range missile was the Taepodong-2, which failed 35 seconds after launch. Experts believe the missile North Korea's most advanced with a range of up to 9,320 miles could reach the United States with a light payload.
The State Department said the smaller missiles includes Scuds, which could target South Korea, and Rodongs, which has a range of about 620 miles and could target Japan.
The launch came after weeks of speculation that the North was preparing to test the Taepodong-2 from a site on its northeast coast. U.S. and Japanese officials said six missiles were fired in all, launched over a four-hour period beginning about 3:30 a.m. Wednesday (2:30 p.m. Tuesday EDT).
The North American Aerospace Defense Command which monitors the skies for threats to North American security said it has been on heightened alert for about two weeks and not because of the latest tests.
If the timing is correct, the North Korean missiles were launched within minutes of Tuesday's liftoff of Discovery, which blasted into orbit from Cape Canaveral in the first U.S. space shuttle launch in a year.
Hadley suggested the tests might have been an attempt to grab the international spotlight.
"It's very difficult to know what the North Koreans think they are doing this for," Hadley said. "Obviously, it is a bit of an effort to get attention, perhaps because so much attention has been focused on the Iranians."
There was no immediate comment from offiials in North Korea. Han Song Ryol, deputy chief of North Korea's mission to the U.N. in New York, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview: "We diplomats do not know what the military is doing."
North Korea's missile program is based on Scud technology provided by the former Soviet Union or Egypt, according to American and South Korean officials. North Korea started its Rodong-1 missile project in the late 1980s and test-fired the missile for the first time in 1993.
North Korea had observed a moratorium on long-range missile launches since 1999. It shocked the world in 1998 by firing a Taepodong missile over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean.
The United States and its allies South Korea and Japan have taken quick steps over the past week to strengthen their missile defenses. Washington and Tokyo are working on a joint missile-defense shield, and South Korea is considering the purchase of American SM-2 defensive missiles for its destroyers.
The U.S. and North Korea have been in a standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program since 2002. The North claims to have produced nuclear weapons, but that claim has not been publicly verified by outside analysts.
While public information on North Korea's military capabilities is murky, experts doubt that the regime has managed to develop a nuclear warhead small enough to mount on its long-range missiles.
Nonetheless, Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told U.S. lawmakers last week that officials took the potential launch reports seriously and were looking at the full range of capabilities possessed by North Korea.