US weapons experts working on disabling the Yongbyon nuclear plant have also been expelled.

The UN Security Council statement said the North's rocket launch was violation of a resolution banning Pyongyang from conducting missile-related activities.

Pyongyang insists the launch placed a satellite into orbit, and defended what it said was its sovereign right to a space programme.

But the US military says no satellite has been detected after the rocket's upper stage and its payload apparently crashed into the Pacific. It says the launch was a cover for a long-range ballistic missile test.

'Mutual dialogue' urged

Despite the North's series of angry responses to the Security Council's condemnation, El-Baradei said he hoped North Korea would return to dialogue.

In depth


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 Photo: N Korea's launch site

"While I am distressed because, of course, what has happened in North Korea is a setback, I am optimistic about the new environment,'' he said, referring to the apparent willingness of Barack Obama, the US president, to engage with North Korea and Iran.

He also said that his personal view was that the only way to resolve such issues was "not through flexing muscles, not necessarily only to go to the Security
Council, but to try to address the root causes and engage in mutual dialogue based on mutual respect".

"If you develop a package for North Korea based on assurance of security, economic assistance, human rights, I would hope that North Korea would come back to the fold and again come back to the non-proliferation treaty."

Under a 2007 six-party agreement, North Korea agreed to disable its Yongbyon complex, located north of Pyongyang in return for one million tonnes of fuel oil and other concessions.

In June 2008, North Korea blew up the cooling tower at Yongbyon in a show of its commitment to denuclearisation.

But the path to disarmament stopped a month later as the government failed to agree with Washington over how to verify its nuclear activities.

The latest round of talks, in December, failed to push the process forward.