North Korean officials called the launch a peaceful bid to send an observation satellite into space, timed to commemorate the 100th anniversary Sunday of the birth of late North Korea founder Kim Il Sung. The launch was a failure, with the rocket splintering into pieces less than two minutes after takeoff.
Condemnation was swift, with the United States and others calling it a covert test of rocket technology that could be used to fire a long-range missile fitted with a nuclear warhead.
Washington immediately halted a plan brokered in February to provide North Korea with much-needed food aid in exchange for a suspension of its nuclear and missile programs.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Tuesday that it was difficult to say whether the North's latest statement could indicate whether its "opaque regime" was readying a nuclear test.
"In the past there's been a pattern of bad behavior," he told a briefing in Washington. "We can't preclude anything at this point."
On Monday, the U.N. Security Council, including North Korea ally China, condemned the rocket launch as a violation of resolutions prohibiting North Korea from ballistic missile and nuclear activity, and directed its sanctions committee to strengthen penalties against the country.
At the United Nations in New York, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the Security Council stood ready to take action should there be "further acts, either missile launches or further nuclear test."
"One would hope, against past precedent, that the leadership in North Korea will see the wisdom of not pursuing further provocations," she added.
Responding to the Security Council's condemnation, North Korea accused the United States on Tuesday of leading a campaign to deny its right to develop its defense and civilian space programs.
North Korea's Foreign Ministry vowed to press ahead with its space ambitions, and warned it would no longer adhere to the February agreement with the United States.
"We have thus become able to take necessary retaliatory measures, free from the agreement," the ministry said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. "The U.S. will be held wholly accountable for all the ensuing consequences."