SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean warships scoured the Yellow Sea on Saturday in search of debris from a failed North Korean rocket launch that has heightened tensions in the region and brought international condemnation on the country's new leader amid a week of lavish celebrations to mark the centenary of the nation's founder.
South Korea's navy has deployed about 10 ships, including a corvette with sonar radar, to search for rocket debris, a Defense Ministry official said Saturday. He refused to provide further details and asked not to be named because the sensitive mission was still under way.
U.S. Navy minesweepers and other ships were also believed to be in the area and were expected to join the search, which could offer evidence of what went wrong and what rocket technology North Korea has. Japan's Defense Ministry said it is not participating in the search because none of the debris is believed to have fallen in Japanese waters.
Japan's vice defense minister, Shu Watanabe, warned the North not to try to block the search, saying in a televised interview that any such effort could heighten military tensions.
The rocket's disintegration just moments after liftoff Friday brought a rare public acknowledgment of failure from Pyongyang, which had hailed the launch as a show of strength amid North Korea's persistent economic hardship.
The launch was timed to coincide with the country's biggest holiday in decades, the 100th birthday of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung.
International condemnation was swift, including the suspension of U.S. food aid, and raised concerns that the North's next move could be even more provocative: a nuclear test, the country's third.
The U.N. Security Council denounced the launch as a violation of two resolutions that prohibit North Korea from developing its nuclear and missile programs, and met behind closed doors to consider a response. The council imposed sanctions on North Korea after its first nuclear test in 2006 and stepped up sanctions after its second in 2009.
President Barack Obama said North Korea's failed rocket launch shows the country is wasting money on rockets that "don't work" while its people starve. He told Spanish-language TV network "Telemundo" that the North Koreans have "been trying to launch missiles like this for over a decade now, and they don't seem to be real good at it."
Still, he called the failed launch Friday an area of deep concern for the United States and said the U.S. will work with other nations to "further isolate" North Korea.
North Korea called the Kwangmyongsong, or Bright Shining Star, satellite a scientific achievement.
Experts say the Unha-3 carrier is the same type of rocket that would be used to strike the U.S. and other targets with a long-range missile. North Korea has tested two atomic devices but is not yet believed to be able to build a nuclear warhead small enough to be mounted on a long-range missile.
Associated Press writers Eric Talmadge, in Seoul, and Mari Yamaguchi, in Tokyo, contributed to this report.