G7 'gravely concerned' by deepening Russia, North Korea ties: statement

ROME (Reuters) - Foreign ministers from 10 nations, including those from the Group of Seven (G7) major democracies, on Friday condemned weapons transfers from North Korea to Russia, saying the arms were being used against Ukraine.

The ministers from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Britain and the United States, along with the European Union, urged North Korea to cease the exports and also end its nuclear weapons programme.

"Our governments stand in resolute opposition to these continued arms transfers, which Russia has used to strike Ukraine's critical infrastructure, prolonging the suffering of the Ukrainian people," the statement said.

The Western allies re-affirmed recent sanctions that they have levied against North Korea and Russia, but did not point to any new measures.

Russia said earlier this month that Western claims it was cooperating militarily with North Korea were inaccurate and said its relationship with Pyongyang was neither directed against third countries nor threatening to the security of the region.

Friday's statement called on North Korea to abandon "all nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles and related programmes in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner", adding that diplomacy was the only way to bring enduring peace.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have increased since the North last year scrapped a 2018 pact aimed at de-escalating tensions near the military border drawn up under a truce ending the 1950-53 Korean War.

The Western statement came the day after North Korea fired a barrage of short-range ballistic missiles in what it said was a show of its willingness to launch a pre-emptive strike against South Korea's "gangsters' regime".

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; editing by Alvise Armellini)