WASHINGTON, Feb. 25 (UPI) -- The United States Tuesday joined South Korea in downplaying North Korea's latest missile test and said it didn't violate a ban on long-range missiles.
Monday's test came on the day that South Koreans inaugurated their new president, Roh Moo-hyun. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and other international guests were in Seoul to attend the celebrations when Pyongyang fired the missile.
South Korea also downplayed the test, saying it was part of North Korea's regular military drill. However, the test aroused alarm across East Asia, causing stock markets to fall.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Amanda Batt confirmed that North Korea launched "a short-range anti-ship cruise missile Monday," adding that "this came as no surprise to the United States."
"The launch does not violate North Korea's voluntary moratorium on flight tests of long-range ballistic missiles," Batt told United Press International.
But America's Japanese allies appear more apprehensive.
A visiting Japanese member of parliament, Seiji Maehara, told UPI in Washington that the latest move clearly signals a growing threat from North Korea and that Japan needs to work closely not only with the United States but also with China and South Korea to counter that threat.
"It is most likely that either North Korea already has nuclear weapons or it is only a matter of time that they develop nuclear weapons," Maehara said.
He also criticized Washington's decision to resume food aid to North Korea.
"We should not be vigilant giving food aid too readily. We need further monitoring of the situation," he said.
Powell announced in Seoul Tuesday that the United States would donate 100,000 tons of food to North Korea despite its refusal to end the nuclear program.
Japan said North Korea had launched two land-to-ship missiles. One failed and the other flew 37 miles across the Sea of Japan. Japanese reports said the missile was made in China. However, China -- which has promised the United States to exercise its influence over its neighbor and end missile technology sales -- denied those reports.
News of the test undermined Northeast Asian markets. In Tokyo, the benchmark Nikkei average dropped 2.39 percent. South Korea's composite index plunged 3.9 percent while Taiwan's weighted index declined by 3.36 percent.
Powell, however, played down the significance of the missile test, saying it appeared to be "fairly innocuous."
On a stopover in Alaska on Monday night, he said that contrary to earlier indications, North Korea had chosen not to restart its nuclear reactor and reprocessing plant at Yongbyon.
Pyongyang says its nuclear activities are restricted to peaceful purposes.
Just hours after the test, Roh took the oath of office as the new South Korean president, succeeding Kim Dae-Jung.
After the inaugural ceremony, Roh said he would continue his predecessor's policy of dialogue with the north in an effort to preserve peace on the Korean peninsula.
He said the suspicion that the north was developing nuclear weapons posed "a grave threat to world peace," adding that it was up to Pyongyang "whether to go ahead and obtain nuclear weapons or to get guarantees for the security of its regime and international economic support."
Speaking at the inaugural ceremony, Powell reassured Seoul that Washington has no plans to use military force against the north.
Announcing the resumption of U.S. food aid shipments to North Korea, Powell said Washington had no desire to overthrow North Korea's communist government.
But his conciliatory approach doesn't seem to have softened attitudes in Pyongyang, which said Tuesday that U.S. spy planes had intruded into its airspace on three consecutive days.