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Russia, China press N. Korea to scuttle planned rocket launch

Kyodo via Reuters, file

Engineers check the top of a rocket sitting on the launch pad during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities last April. The launch, which was heavily criticized by Russia, China and the U.S., failed when the rocket broke apart over the sea.

Updated at 8:01 a.m. ET: Russia and China urged North Korea on Monday not to go ahead with a plan for its second rocket launch of 2012, with Moscow saying the launch would violate restrictions imposed by the U.N. Security Council.

North Korea's state news agency on Saturday announced the decision to launch another space satellite sometime between Dec. 10 and Dec. 22, and reportedly told neighbors it would take a similar path to that planned for a failed rocket launch in April.

The country is banned from conducting missile or nuclear-related activities under U.N. resolutions imposed after earlier nuclear and missile tests.

North Korea says the rockets are used to put satellites into orbit for peaceful purposes, but that assertion is not widely accepted.

'Grave provocation': North Korea vows to test long-range rocket

Washington and Seoul believe that the impoverished North is testing long-range missile technology with the aim of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. Pyongyang's threats are aimed, in part, at winning concessions and aid from Washington, analysts say.

"We urgently appeal to the government (of North Korea) to reconsider the decision to launch a rocket," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Echoing its criticism of the April launch, Russia said North Korea had been warned not to ignore a U.N. Security Council resolution which "unambiguously prohibits (it) from launching rockets using ballistic technology."

South Korean warships are searching the Yellow Sea for debris from a recently failed rocket launch by North Korea. NBC's Richard Engel reports.

Has North Korea learned its lessons about launches?

China was not so direct in its criticism of North Korea, but urged "all sides" not to take any action that "worsens the problem."

"China believes that maintaining peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia accords with the interests of all sides and is the joint responsibility of all sides," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters. "In the present circumstances, we hope all sides can be calm and restrained and not take any moves to worsen the problem. China will remain in touch and coordinate with all sides."

Election provocation?
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland condemned the launch plan on Sunday as a provocative threat to the Asia-Pacific region.

The warnings come just weeks before South Korea's Dec. 19 presidential election in which the handling of North Korea is a major campaign issue. The isolated North has for years tried to influence major events in the South by issuing propaganda or launching armed attacks.

Elizabeth Dalziel / AP

From work to play, see pictures from inside the secretive country.

Q&A: Rocket is 'not a military missile ... but it's darn close'

North and South Korea have been technically at war since their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, and regional powers have for years been trying to rein in the North's nuclear program.

Countries trying to stop North Korea's arms program believe it is using rocket launches to perfect technology to build a missile arsenal capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the United States.

The state news agency in North Korea reports they have found an ancient unicorn lair in the capital, Pyongyang, but experts on the country say this is likely leadership using propaganda to make themselves seem superhuman. NBC's Michelle Kosinski reports.

North Korea is under U.N. sanctions that ban trading in missile or nuclear technology that have driven its already dire economy deeper in trouble by cutting off what was once a lucrative source of hard cash.

NBC gets a rare peek inside North Korea

Russia has often balanced criticism of Soviet-era client state North Korea's nuclear activities and missile launches with calls on other powers to refrain from belligerent actions against it, which Russia says can be counterproductive. Past launches by Pyongyang have caused concern among Russians living near the country's border with North Korea.

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