North Korea says Peru throwing 'gas on the fire' of nuclear spat

LIMA (Reuters) - North Korea’s ambassador to Peru said Tuesday that Lima’s decision to expel him was akin to “throwing gasoline on the fire” on the dispute over Pyongyang’s nuclear tests that it would continue to pursue “without wavering.”

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Peru declared the ambassador, Kim Hak-Chol, a persona non grata on Monday to protest North Korea’s refusal to heed the world’s “constant calls” to end its nuclear program - giving him five days to leave the Andean country.

“The bilateral and diplomatic measure taken yesterday by the Peruvian government lacks judicial and moral reasoning and doesn’t further world peace and security at all,” Kim said, reading from a statement at a news conference in Lima.

“To the contrary, it throws gasoline on the fire for which we express protest and regret,” Kim added before declining to take questions from reporters.

Peru’s decision to expel Kim followed a similar move by Mexico last week and a public call from the United States last month for Latin American countries to sever ties with North Korea.

Peruvian Foreign Minister Ricardo Luna said the move was strongly rooted in international law as reflected by new U.N. sanctions against North Korea passed on Monday.

“It’s inappropriate to maintain relations with that country,” Luna said in broadcast comments to journalists. “Though we haven’t broken off ties, by expelling him the level of diplomats in charge of relations is lowered.”

North Korea has faced growing condemnation from around the world following its sixth and largest nuclear test this month which fueled fears it could spark war.

U.S. President Donald Trump has described the boosted sanctions passed by the U.N. Security Council on Monday as “nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen.”

Kim condemned the sanctions as part of the hostility from the United States regarding North Korea that he said has forced Pyongyang to pursue nuclear tests as a dissuasive measure.

“That’s a problem between us and the United States,” Kim said. “We’ll continue without wavering on the path of justice that we’ve chosen despite the slander and defamation from the United States because we’re certain our cause is just and will triumph.”

Kim will leave Peru as requested and two diplomats will remain in charge of the embassy, an embassy representative said.

Peru does not have any diplomats in North Korea.

Pyongyang opened its embassy in Peru in the 1980s during the first government of former President Alan Garcia, which bought weapons from North Korea at a discount for police.

Trade between the two countries is minimal.

Reporting By Mitra Taj; Editing by Jonathan Oatis