SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea (search) test fired a missile into the Sea of Japan (search ) Sunday — just days after a U.S. intelligence official said the secretive Stalinist state had the ability in theory to arm a missile with a nuclear warhead — raising new fears about Pyongyang's nuclear intentions.
News of the test launch first appeared in Japanese media reports, citing U.S. military officials as having informed the Japanese and South Korean governments of the test launch which took the missile about 65 miles off the North Korean coast. Later, the White House chief of staff confirmed the incident in an interview with "FOX News Sunday."
"They've tested missiles before. This is not the first time of alleged testing of a missile," Andrew Card told FOX News.
"I think they're looking to kind of be bullies in the world, and they're causing others to stand up and take notice but they're not very constructive leaders," he said.
On Thursday, Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the U.S. Senate that the North Koreans knew how to arm a missile with a nuclear weapon, a potentially significant advance for the communist state.
He did not specify whether he was talking about a short-range or long-range missile, the latter believed capable of hitting the United States.
Two defense officials later said that U.S. intelligence analysts believe North Korea is several years away from being able to mount a nuclear warhead on a missile that could reach the United States from the Korean Peninsula.
The Sunday test-firing occurred on the eve of a crucial gathering at the United Nations to review global progress on curbing nuclear proliferation. North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 2003. The United States, however, is expected to seek a consensus for tough action against the North Koreans as well as the Iranians — both accused by Washington of having nuclear weapons or ambitions to build them — during the U.N. session.
North Korea has test fired short-range missiles many times in the past. In 2003, it test fired short-range land-to-ship missiles at least three times during a period of heightened tension over its nuclear weapons program.
The Sunday test, however, occurred at an especially worrisome time as the North appeared to have resumed efforts to move forward with its nuclear weapons program. South Korean officials said last month that Pyongyang had recently shut down a nuclear reactor, possibly to harvest more weapons-grade plutonium.
North Korea shocked the region in 1998 by test-firing a Taepodong-1 missile over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean. The North said that was an attempt to put a satellite in orbit.
U.S. and South Korean officials are more concerned about a possible North Korean test of a Taepodong-2 missile, which analysts believe is capable of reaching parts of the western United States, though there are widespread doubts about its reach and accuracy.
Washington says North Korea is a top global exporter of missile parts and technology.
The Japanese Cabinet in February approved legislation that would allow the defense chief to order the military to shoot down incoming missiles.
Six-nation talks aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions have been stalled since last June.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.