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South Korea, the United States, Japan, Australia and other nations quickly condemned the launch. Even China, North Korea’s only ally in the region, expressed “regret” over the launch.

The U.S. and its allies have long said that North Korea’s long-range rocket launches — this was the fifth since 1998 — are ballistic missile tests because the same technology applies. The United Nations has banned North Korea from conducting such tests.

The rocket was launched nearly a week before the first anniversary of the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, on Dec. 17. He was succeeded by his 20-something son, Kim Jung-un, in January.

Earlier this month, North Korean officials announced their intention to launch the rocket between Dec. 10 and Dec. 22 to commemorate Kim’s death.

However, officials at North Korea’s space center had said the launch window had been extended to Dec. 29 to enable engineers to address some technical issues with the rocket.

The Unha-3 launch was “a successful proof of concept for the Taepodong-2 ballistic missile,” said space technology analyst Matthew Hoey.

The Taepodong-2 has a range of more than 4,000 miles, which would put Alaska and Hawaii within striking distance of North Korean missiles, according to South Korea’s Defense Ministry.

A remote threat

David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, Mass., said North Korea’s ability to launch a nuclear-armed ballistic missile is a remote threat.

First, the North Koreans would have to convert a long-range rocket to a ballistic missile that could carry a nuclear warhead, he said. Then they would have to miniaturize a nuclear weapon to fit atop the missile.

Finally, they would need to create a heat shield to enable the warhead to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere without burning up, Mr. Wright said.

However, analysts said the launch’s success has given North Korea some negotiating muscle in dealing with Washington, which has sought to curb the North’s uranium enrichment and weapons programs.

North Korea is very clear that they want to be recognized as a nuclear power. … They want to negotiate with the U.S. with regard to [nuclear] weapons programs they have already developed,” said Choi Jin-wook of the Korea Institute of National Unification in Seoul. “I think the U.S. cannot postpone urgent negotiations any further, because now North Korea has both a nuclear program and a delivery system.”

Six-party talks involving North and South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan on halting the North’s nuclear program have been stalled since 2009.

Mr. Klingner of the Heritage Foundation said there is “little appetite within Washington for an energetic aggressive engagement” with North Korea.

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