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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Trump and South Korea's Moon pledge 'stronger pressure' on North Korea

It comes as a Gulf-based official confirms that Kuwait will expel North Korea's ambassador and four other diplomats

South Korean president Moon Jae-in is seen talking to his US counterpart, Donald Trump, in a telephone conversation at the presidential office in Seoul on September 17, 2017. South Korean Presidential Office Handout / EPA
South Korean president Moon Jae-in is seen talking to his US counterpart, Donald Trump, in a telephone conversation at the presidential office in Seoul on September 17, 2017. South Korean Presidential Office Handout / EPA

US president Donald Trump and his South Korean counterpart have pledged "stronger pressure" on Pyongyang, Seoul said on Sunday, after North Korea defied tough new sanctions with a missile test and said it wanted to match American nuclear strength.

The international community is scrambling to contain an increasingly belligerent North Korea, which in recent weeks has prompted global alarm by conducting its sixth and largest nuclear test and firing long-range missiles over Japan which it says could reach the US mainland.

In a phone conversation on Sunday, South Korean president Moon Jae-In and Mr Trump "gravely condemned" the latest missile test on Friday, which came just days after the United Nations Security Council announced a raft of new sanctions against Pyongyang.

"The two leaders agreed on more practical and stronger pressure … to make the North Korean regime realise that further provocation will only bring stronger diplomatic isolation and economic pressure leading to a path of collapse," the South's presidential office said.

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Pyongyang says it needs nuclear weapons to protect itself from "hostile" American forces and is determined to build a weapons system capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to hit the US mainland.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who oversaw the latest missile test, said the launch increased the "combat power of the nuclear force", according to the North's official KCNA news agency.

He said the launch was part of the country's plan to achieve "equilibrium of real force" with the United States.

Experts believe Pyongyang's weapons programme has made rapid progress under leader Kim Jong-un, with previous sanctions having done little to deter it.

The Security Council, which condemned Friday's launch as "highly provocative," will hold a new ministerial-level meeting on Thursday on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, focused on enforcing sanctions on Mr Kim's regime, diplomats said.

The meeting will be held during the annual UN General Assembly gathering of world leaders in New York where Mr Trump will meet with the leaders of Japan and South Korea on the sidelines to address the crisis.

Also on Sunday, a Gulf-based official confirmed that Kuwait will expel North Korea's ambassador and four other diplomats.

It comes after Kuwait pledged to expel the diplomats in a letter to the UN last month.

The US has been putting increased pressure on its allies to cut all ties to North Korea in response to Pyongyang's missile programme.

Kuwait did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the US embassy in Kuwait City.