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Italian foreign minister Angelino Alfano gestures during a joint news conference with Qatar's foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani in Doha, Qatar, August 2, 2017. REUTERS/Naseem Zeitoon

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MILAN (Reuters) - North Korea's ambassador to Italy will be expelled from the country in protest over Pyongyang's recent nuclear and ballistic missile tests, Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano was quoted on Sunday as saying.

However, Alfano also told Italian daily La Repubblica that Italy would not sever its diplomatic relations with North Korea because he said it was useful to maintain a channel of communication.

"The ambassador will have to leave Italy," Alfano said.

"We want to impress on Pyongyang that isolation is inevitable if they don't change tack."

The minister added that Spain had similarly declared the North Korean ambassador in Madrid "persona non grata", while Portugal had severed diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.

North Korea is fast advancing toward its goal of developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland. It conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test on Sept. 3 and has threatened to test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific.

On Saturday the United States said it was directly communicating with North Korea on its nuclear and missile programmes but that Pyongyang had shown no interest in dialogue.

(Reporting by Stephen Jewkes; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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