5 things to know about US Vice President Mike Pence

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Pyongyang recently threatened to conduct its sixth nuclear test in a decade, rising tensions-and the odds of a military confrontation-to the highest levels in recent years.

Mr. Trump, who has proved to be unpredictable on foreign policy, has responded to the recent concerns over North Korea with a swagger that suggests a new, tougher stance.

It was unclear exactly when the conversation took place on Sunday, but Xinhua's report of the call came out after a failed missile launch by North Korea.

The U.S. last week acted unilaterally in ordering a cruise missile strike on Syria and has sent what Mr. Trump called an "armada" to the waters off the Korean Peninsula. North Korea, which has inched closer to developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach the coastal US, commonly engages in military posturing on its founder's birthday.

Pence's visit to Australia, a close USA ally, comes after Trump criticized an Obama-era deal between the two countries to resettle refugees.

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A North Korean missile exploded during launch Sunday from the country's east coast, US and South Korean officials said, a high-profile failure that comes as a powerful USA aircraft carrier approaches the Korean Peninsula in a show of force.

The vice president is on trip to South Korea, the first stop on his Asia visit. Pence was quickly in contact with President Donald Trump in Florida, the vice president's aides said.

The tense episode with North Korea comes after the USA took military action last week against the Syrian regime - a move the North condemned as unjustifiable - and dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in its arsenal on a Daesh target in Afghanistan. China, the North's biggest trading partner and the crutch that keeps its economy afloat, has so far shown little appetite for pulling the plug on North Korea.

Kim has pointed to nuclear weapons as the foundation of his national defense strategy and has openly sought a nuclear weapon that could strike the continental United States.

Sunday's launch comes a day after the 105th birthday of late North Korea founder Kim Il Sung.