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Mr. Zhu said Pyongyang’s recent launch was a negotiating chip, not an immediate threat. He said it was intended to stoke tensions abroad in order to improve Pyongyang’s position in future international negotiations.

Mr. Weeden said North Korea may want to create the perception that it poses a threat to the United States, but it is not likely to go further than that.

“I expect North Korea to milk this situation for everything they can get,” he said. “But I don’t think that perception will be matched by the actual hard work and testing needed to develop and field a reliable, effective weapon system like the ICBMs deployed by the U.S., Russia and China.”

But Victor Cha, a former White House director for Asia policy, warned there has been an unspoken tendency in the United States to regard North Korea as a technologically backward and bizarre country, underestimating the strategic threat it poses.

“This is no longer acceptable,” he wrote in a commentary.

North Korea already poses a major security threat to its East Asian neighbors. It has one of the world’s largest standing armies and a formidable if aging arsenal of artillery that could target Seoul, the capital of South Korea. Nearly 30,000 U.S. forces are based in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended with an armistice, not a formal peace treaty.

The North’s short-range rockets also potentially could target another core U.S. ally, Japan.

Darryl Kimball, executive director of the nongovernmental Arms Control Association, said those capabilities, rather than the North’s future ability to strike the U.S., still warrant the most attention.

Matthew Pennington reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Alexa Olesen in Beijing and multimedia producer Jenni Sohn in New York contributed to this report.