North Korea appears to have failed in an attempt to launch a missile to mark the birthday of its founding president.
A statement released by South Korea's joint chiefs of staff said the North "appears to have attempted a missile test near its east coast early Friday morning, but it appears to have failed."
A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on background, said that U.S. Strategic Command systems detected what analysts assessed was a failed North Korean missile launch early Friday morning.
Observers have been anticipating that North Korea would mark the birthday of President Kim Il Sung with the launch of a midrange ballistic missile.
There has been growing concern over North Korea's missile and nuclear programs as the country continues to threaten its neighbors South Korea and Japan, as well as the United States. North Korea claims that it has developed an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that can hit the U.S. mainland.
In Washington earlier Thursday, the commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said that U.S. forces are prepared to deal with a North Korea capable of launching such a missile.
However, Navy Admiral Bill Gortney said such an event remains unlikely.
"The intel community assesses the probability of North Korea fielding a successful road-mobile ICBM with a miniature nuclear device that can reach the homeland as low," he said.
Gortney said North Korea has demonstrated the capability to launch missiles or rockets into space, but has not tested the re-entry vehicle that would be necessary for such long-range missile strikes.
National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin and Pentagon Correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report.