After failed North Korea missile launch, a waiting game for Obama

North Korea, missile
North Korea's Unha-3 rocket, slated for liftoff between April 12-16, stands at Sohae Satellite Station in Tongchang-ri, North Korea on Sunday April 8, 2012.
AP Photo/Ng Han Guan
(CBS News) Following the failed launch Thursday night of North Korea's Unha-3 rocket, the Obama administration appears to have few options to take in response, at least until North Korea makes its next move.

The launch, which was officially part of a celebration to mark the 100th birthday of North Korean founder Kim Il-sung, failed after only about 100 seconds of powered flight, drew international condemnation, and was seen as a major embarrassment to the country and its new founder, Kim Jong-un, who ascended to power after the death of Kim Jong-Il late last year.

The White House says it will pull millions of dollars worth of planned food aid to North Korea in response to its having proceeded with the launch, and the United Nations Security Council called an emergency meeting to condemn the failed launch.

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Despite these efforts, however, North Korea expert Marcus Noland, deputy director and senior fellow of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, says the Obama administration is essentially locked in a holding place until North Korea makes its next move.

Noland says he expects countries like China to use the failure as an excuse against taking "robust" actions against North Korea, such as the authorization to use force and interdiction.

"I think very little will come out of this Security Council," Noland told CBS News Political Hotsheet. "If I were in the Obama administration I would basically be biding my time and preparing for the other shoe to drop."

In the meantime, "the administration will condemn it and they'll go the United Nations Security Council to try to get a [presidential] statement, not a resolution. That will be it, and it will look horrible," Victor Cha, a former White House adviser on North Korea to President George W. Bush, said Thursday in an interview with Foreign Policy.

"And privately they will press hard on China to finally play ball and put real pressure on Pyongyang," said Cha, now a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In light of the embarrassment of the failed launch, Noland said he thinks it is now a "virtual certainty" that North Korea will launch its third nuclear test in an attempt to save face.

"Having had this thing fail so dramatically and so publicly I almost think the probability will be 100 percent," Noland said, of such a move. "They have to do something now to regain their domestic and international credibility."

Until that happens, however, Noland doesn't think the Security Council will be able to exert sufficient pressure on certain countries - notably China, which shares a border with North Korea and maintains a trade relationship with it - to agree to more forceful action.

Noland says that following a third nuclear test, the U.S. and others could press for authorization to impose much broader financial sanctions, which have a different political dynamic from trade sanctions.

China has not implemented trade sanctions in the past, but Chinese banks have cooperated with financial sanctions.

The Romney campaign released a statement Thursday night hammering the president for what they cast as his "incompetence" with regard to North Korea, and alleged that the president had "emboldened" the North Korean regime.

Noland gave little credence to that theory.

"I'd completely dismiss that commentary as election year nonsense," he said.

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