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North Korea appears to have taken a new step forward in its long-range missile capability. The country's reclusive government fired a long-range rocket tonight, and the timing was unexpected. The launch came despite warnings of further U.N. sanctions.
Joining us now is NPR's Louisa Lim. And, Louisa, what do we know about the test?
LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: Well, we know that within the last couple of hours, North Korea fired this rocket which overflew Japan and overflew the island of Okinawa. And the North Koreans have just announced in the last few minutes that they say the launch has been a success and that their satellite, Shining Star-3, is in orbit.
And we haven't had confirmation of that, but we do know that the rocket followed the trajectory that it was meant to follow. Three stages as the rocket landed in the sea: the first stage, west of the Korean Peninsula, the third stage about 190 miles east of the Philippines. And the South Korean defense ministry is saying it is a success.
So certainly, compared to the last attempt in April when the North Korean rocket exploded seconds after takeoff, this is a step forward for the North Koreans.
SIEGEL: Now, Louisa, this rocket launch took observers by surprise, with experts saying that there were problems with the rocket that needed to be repaired. What happened?
LIM: Yes, that's right. I mean, just couple of days ago, North Korea actually announced that it was extending the launch window by a week, until December 29. And they made this very rare admission to technical problems with the rocket, so no one was expecting the launch this week. And some South Koreans were even saying that parts of the rocket had been dismantled.
But the timing is significant for the North Koreans. It comes on the run-up to the first anniversary of the death of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. It's also coming as Japan and South Korea hold elections. And so it will be seen in North Korea as a big boost for the new leader, Kim Jon Un.
SIEGEL: Now, based on the warnings that we've heard from the U.S. and from others, what would you expect the international reaction to be to this rocket launch?
LIM: The international reaction is likely extremely angry indeed. Under U.N. resolutions, North Korea is actually banned from testing missile technology. And it had been warned not to go ahead. Even China, North Korea's traditional ally, had expressed concern about the plans. And now, we're already beginning to see the diplomatic process underway. Japan said a rocket launch is unacceptable. They're asking for a U.N. Security Council meeting to be convened.
But the problem is that North Korea is already so heavily sanctioned it's difficult to know what else can be done to punish it apart for more international condemnation.
SIEGEL: OK. Thank you, Louisa.
LIM: Thank you, Robert.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Louisa Lim reporting on tonight's long-range rocket launch by North Korea. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.