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North Korean Missile Launch Raises Questions About Ballistic Weapons  



North Korea's attempted launch of a three-stage rocket has raised questions about the Communist nation's ability to be a nuclear threat.

As the world views the televised images of North Korea's rocket launch, analysts are debating the extent of Pyongyang's long range missile capabilities.

North Korea says it successfully launched a satellite into orbit.

The U.S. and others say nothing reached orbit and the launch showed Pyongyang does not have the technology for an intercontinental ballistic missile flight.

The US suspects the launch was being used as a test of a ballistic missile system. It could eventually carry a nuclear warhead.

Washington has denounced the launch. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it a "provocative act."

Jim Asker, managing editor of Aviation Week and Space Technology Magazine, says North Korea's challenge is twofold.

"The other problem is making a warhead that will fit on the top of a launch vehicle, particularly one that is on the smaller side. That's not an insignificant problem at all," Asker said. "At this point, I don't think there's a lot of confidence that the North Koreans will be at that point any time soon."

Sunday's Taepodong-2 rocket is believed to have traveled 3200 kilometers. That's double the range North Korea achieved in a launch eleven years ago.

Asker says Pyongyang's technical capabilities cannot be dismissed. He says the possibility of North Korea working with Iran is a concern.

"The two technical programs seem to cooperate pretty closely. In some regards it looks like the Iranians are ahead of the North Koreans," Asker said. "Iran, after all, has put a satellite in orbit and North Korea has not."

Asker says even if the payload was merely a satellite, a successful launch would be significant.

"Putting a satellite in orbit proves the case that you can build an intercontinental ballistic missile. They're one and the same in terms of how they're built and how they function," he said.

Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC., says North Korea's action presents a test for the Obama administration.

"Will its actions match the rhetoric - the commendably strong rhetoric it's had so far against North Korea? That's the first test," Klingner said. "The second test is how effective will Obama and his administration be in convincing China and Russia to do the right thing."

Diplomats from the five permanent members: Britain, France, China, Russia, and the United States - of the U.N. Security Council met twice this week to discuss potential action against North Korea, but failed to reach consensus. The U.S., Japan, and Britain want a tough response, with China and Russia urging restraint.

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