South Korean warships conduct a live-fire drill off the country's east coast Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, in a show of force after North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test.

South Korean warships conduct a live-fire drill off the country's east coast Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, in a show of force after North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test. (Courtesy of South Korean navy)

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean warships took to the sea as the navy began a live-fire drill Tuesday, the latest show of force after the North conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test.

Washington and Seoul also agreed to remove the alliance-imposed limit on the size of warheads for South Korea’s missiles to allow the South to boost its own defensive power, according to the president’s office.

The moves came as the United States and South Korea vowed to step up pressure on the North, which was reportedly preparing to test-fire another intercontinental ballistic missile, possibly in connection with the 69th anniversary of its foundation on Saturday.

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the communist state’s actions show it’s “begging for war” as she called on the Security Council to adopt the strongest sanctions and other diplomatic measures.

The naval drills began Tuesday with a 2,500-ton frigate and guided-missile vessels conducting a live-fire exercise in the sea off the peninsula’s east coast. They were to continue Wednesday through Saturday in the southern seas, a statement said.

“If the enemy provokes anywhere, whether on or under water, we will immediately hit back and bury them at sea,” Capt. Choi Young-chan, commander of the 13th Maritime Battle Group, was quoted as saying.

On Monday, South Korea conducted a mock attack on the North’s nuclear-testing site with fighter jets and a land-based missile system.

North Korea said it tested a hydrogen bomb that could be fitted onto an ICBM on Sunday. The explosion was so powerful it could be felt in neighboring China.

That followed weeks of saber rattling from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, including a threat to fire missiles into the waters near the U.S. territory of Guam. The regime also test-fired two ICBMs in July and sent a missile soaring over the Japanese island of Hokkaido last month.

President Moon Jae-in discussed the growing threat from the North in a phone call late Monday with President Donald Trump. The leaders agreed to remove South Korea’s missile limits as a practical measure to boost deterrence, according to the presidential office in Seoul.

“President Moon noted the condition was very concerning because the latest nuclear test showed more power than any previous tests, and North Korea itself has claimed the test involved a hydrogen bomb to be mounted on intercontinental ballistic missiles,” it said.

The call came after Trump criticized what he called South Korea’s “talk of appeasement with North Korea” as part of his response to Sunday’s nuclear test.

Moon took office on May 10 promising to pursue engagement with Pyongyang, but he has been forced to take a harder line as the North stepped up the pace of its missile- and nuclear-testing programs.

South Korean defense and intelligence officials said Monday they had indications the North may try to launch another ICBM to mark its foundation day on Sept. 9, or on the Oct. 10 anniversary of the formation of its ruling Workers’ Party. North Korea frequently times high-profile events around important holidays.

Stars and Stripes reporter Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report. Twitter: @kimgamel

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