N. Korea fires missiles into Sea of Japan: Reports

North Korea fired several short-range missiles toward the Sea of Japan on Friday, Japanese media reported.

U.S., Japan and South Korea downplay apparent test as routine

North Korea fired several guided missiles into the Sea of Japan on Friday, reports said, but diplomats from the U.S., Japan and South Korea played down the incident as a standard annual test launch.

Although Japanese President Shinzo Abe said the drills — tested in the sea that separates Japan from the Korean peninsula — were "extremely regrettable," he added that Japan does not consider the North Korean test to be "a grave threat to Japan's national security."

U.S. assistant secretary of state Christopher Hill agreed, dismissing the communist country's apparent missile firing as "not unusual" for North Korea.

"They've done that before," said Hill, who is also Washington's main envoy in nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang.

Hill and Abe repeated their hope that North Korea would continue to engage with them in six-party talks and honour a deal reached in February to begin dismantling its nuclear weapons program.

Test won't affect nuclear talks

South Korea, which is one of the six nations involved in the nuclear negotiations, also remained optimistic.

"The mood is, this won't affect the six-party talks," a South Korean foreign ministry official told the Associated Press.

The country's Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a statement saying they believed the missiles were "part of a routine exercise" that the North "has conducted annually on the east and the west coasts in the past."

Media reports speculated the North's missile test was in response to South Korea acquiring its first high-tech destroyer capable of shooting down enemy missiles and aircraft. South Korea launched the $1.07-billion US destroyer on Friday and it is now one of only five countries armed with Aegis radar technology to counter ballistic missiles.

Nuclear program a constant concern

Park Young-ho, a specialist at the South's Korea Institute for National Unification, said the North's actions were a way of "showing off its military capability."

North Korea's missile program and pursuit of nuclear weapons has been a constant concern to the U.S. as well as South Korea.

North Korea test-fired a series of missiles in July 2006, including its latest long-range model, known abroad as the Taepodong-2, which experts believe could reach parts of the U.S. The North rattled the world again in October by conducting its first-ever test of a nuclear device. However, experts believe it does not have a bomb design advanced enough to be placed on a missile.

With files from the Associated Press