The Obama administration's Asia team was caught so off guard by North Korea's Dec. 11 rocket launch, several of them actually had to put down their drinks and suddenly leave a holiday party being held in honor of the Japanese emperor's birthday.
Several top U.S. officials dealing with Asia and North Korea from the State Department, the Pentagon, and the National Security Council were relaxing Tuesday night at the Japanese ambassador's Nebraska Avenue residence in Washington when the news came over their blackberries that North Korea had launched another Unha-3 rocket with a "satellite" attached, this time with much more success than a previous attempt in April.
Just minutes before the launch news became known, several officials were overheard remarking how nice it was that North Korea was apparently delaying the launch, giving U.S. North Korea watchers hope that their holiday festivities would not be interrupted.
"Nobody in the U.S. government thought this would happen when it did," said one top Asia expert who attended the party. "A lot of the guys who do the Korea stuff both on the policy and intelligence side were at this thing. They were saying ‘We bought ourselves some time.' People were hoping it didn't happen before Christmas because they wanted to take time off."
Among the Obama Asia officials at the party when the rocket launched were Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia AffairsJim Zumwalt, National Security Council Director for East Asia Syd Seiler, Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy Northeast Asia Director Chris Johnstone, OSD Senior Advisor for Asia Amy Searight, and others. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific AffairsPeter Lavoy was at the Pakistani ambassador's Christmas Party, as was your humble Cable guy.