SEOUL - Shouting soldiers at a mass rally on Wednesday celebrated North Korea's defiant launch of a rocket, while Russia's foreign minister said any new punishment for Pyongyang could be counter-productive.

The United States, Japan and South Korea said the North's launch on Sunday was a disguised test of a long-range missile designed to carry warheads to U.S. territory and deserves punishment because it violated U.N. resolutions.

North Korea warned the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that it would take strong steps if the 15-nation body took any action in response to the launch. On Wednesday, it gathered its top communist and military officials for a celebration of the launch broadcast on its state TV and monitored in Seoul.

The reclusive state has threatened to boycott six-way nuclear disarmament talks and restart its plant that makes bomb-grade plutonium if it is punished by the United Nations.

It also warned on Wednesday of military action if anyone tries to retrieve debris from the rocket.

U.S. and South Korean military officials said the missile, known as the Taepodong-2, crashed down into the sea and no satellite was deployed during its 3,200 km (2,000 mile) flight over Japan that ended in the Pacific Ocean.

The North's KCNA news agency quoted a military spokesman as saying Japan's attempt to find booster stages that splashed down in waters off its coasts was an intolerable military provocative act of infringing upon its (North Korea's) sovereignty and would be met by an appropriate response.

Diplomats have said China and Russia would probably accept a Security Council warning to Pyongyang urging it to comply with U.N. resolutions and return to the six-nation talks aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear arms program.

But they would be opposed to a binding resolution intended to punish Pyongyang. The United States and Japan would like a resolution that expands existing financial sanctions, which have been criticized for lack of enforcement.

Beijing, the nearest North Korea has to a major ally and concerned about the stability of its unpredictable neighbor, has said any U.N. reaction must be cautious and proportionate.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the threat of sanctions against North Korea was counter-productive.

North Korea said it had the right to deploy a satellite, which it says is circling the globe playing revolutionary songs, as a part of a peaceful space program.


Analysts said North Korea went ahead with the launch knowing that it would not suffer serious international punishment, while leader Kim Jong-il would see an enormous boost at home for the defiant act celebrated as a triumph of his state's might.

The successful launching of the satellite ... is not a mere fruition of wisdom and talent but a fierce confrontation with those who disliked it, KCNA said in a separate report.

Kim is expected to ride a wave of patriotic fervor generated by the launch at the annual meeting of the North's rubber stamp parliament on Thursday.

The Supreme People's Assembly meeting, where a new pecking order for communist party cadres will be unveiled, is expected to show that Kim, 67, has recovered from a suspected stroke last August and is fully in control of Asia's only communist dynasty.

In its only previous test in 2006, the rocket exploded seconds after launch. This time, despite its technical failure, analysts said the launch showed that the impoverished North had greatly increased the range of its missiles but may be years away from building one to threaten the United States.

The repeated failures, or half-success depending on one's perspective, indicate North Korea clearly lacks rocket stage separation technology and stable high-altitude flight capabilities, said Rim Chun-taek, a professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in the department of aerospace engineering.