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Japan, South Korea Play Down North Korea's Missile Launch

Japan and South Korea are downplaying the seriousness of a reported missile launch on Sunday by North Korea.

Tokyo and Seoul are portraying the reported short-range missile test into the Sea of Japan Sunday as nothing alarming.

Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura spoke on a visit to Washington, and said the short-range missile posed no danger to Japan.

In Seoul, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Spokesman Kim Sung-chul agreed Monday the launch was not a threat.

"It doesn't have anything to do with a nuclear test... this is not to be related to the nuclear issue," he said.

Japanese officials say the test does not violate the 2002 Pyongyang Declaration, under which North Korea promised Japan it would extend a moratorium on longer-range missile launches beyond 2003.

Japanese government sources say North Korea has conducted a number of similar short-range test firings in recent years.

These tests have reportedly been mainly variants of the Silkworm surface-to-ship missile. Sources say the only thing unusual about Sunday's launch was that the media got wind of it.

The White House calls the apparent launch a bullying tactic by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. The U.S. State Department says it is consulting closely with Japan, South Korea and others in the region about the incident.

North Korea abandoned six-nation non-proliferation talks in January and boasted it would strengthen its nuclear deterrent.

China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and the United States have been consulting on how to get Pyongyang to keep its commitments to be nuclear free.

All the governments say they are committed to diplomacy but are concerned by signs that North Korea may be preparing for its first nuclear test.