SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea (search) test fired a short-range missile that plunged into the Sea of Japan (search) Sunday, the White House chief of staff said, adding he wasn't "surprised by this," noting Pyonyang had conducted similar tests in the past.
The U.S. military told the Japanese government of the suspected missile launch, which was believed to have traveled some 65 miles off the east coast of North Korea, according to media reports in South Korea and Japan.
Card told a morning news program he had heard about the test Sunday morning.
"I don't know an awful lot about it. It appears that there was a test of a short-range missile by the North Koreans and it landed in the Sea of Japan. We're not surprised by this. The North Koreans have tested their missiles before. They've had some failures."
Japanese officials expressed concern last September that North Korea was preparing for a test launch, but later backed off those assertions.
The missile launch came on the eve of a critical conference at the United Nations (search) to reassess the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, with U.S. negotiators urging action against suspected atomic weapons programs in North Korea and Iran.
North Korean test launches are often considered moves to strengthen its hands in dealings with critics. It test-fired short-range land-to-ship missiles into the ocean on at least three occasions in 2003 during an international standoff over its nuclear weapons program.
Japanese and military officials in Tokyo said they could not comment on the reports. An official at South Korea's National Intelligence Service, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there were signs of a launch from North Korea, but Seoul was still trying to confirm it.
Word of the test came just days after a top U.S. military intelligence official told a U.S. Senate committee that North Korea has the ability to arm a missile with a nuclear weapon, a potentially significant advance for the communist state.
Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, in testimony on Thursday, did not specify whether he was talking about a short-range missile or a long-range one that could reach 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.
North Korea's missile development program has spurred Japan to join the United States in putting together a joint missile-defense system. North Korea startled Tokyo in 1998 by launching a long-range ballistic missile over the Japanese archipelago and into the Pacific Ocean.
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. Washington's top envoy on the issue, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, said on Thursday in South Korea that the North's refusal to return to the talks is a problem but they are still the best way to resolve the matter.