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(photo credit: AP [file])
Russia and China refused to back a Japanese resolution that would impose sanctions on North Korea for firing a barrage of ballistic missiles, calling instead for a strong Security Council statement without any mention of sanctions.
The United States, Britain and France strongly backed the Japanese draft, with US Ambassador John Bolton saying Thursday that it has "broad and deep support."
After a second meeting of council experts, the five veto-wielding permanent members remained divided over a response to the missile launches.
Japan and its supporters were considering whether to press for a vote on the resolution and face the possibility of a Chinese or Russian veto, or whether to compromise and agree to a weaker presidential statement that would be supported by all 15 council members.
Ambassadors from Japan, the United States, Britain and France discussed next steps Thursday afternoon and decided to consult capitals before meeting again, a council diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private.
Russia's deputy UN ambassador Konstantin Dolgov reiterated Moscow's position that a presidential statement, which becomes part of the council's official record but is not legally binding, is a better format for a reaction than a resolution.
"We don't think that sanctions is the instrument, the leverage which is to be employed right now and right here," he told AP. "Strong reaction, strong message, clear message, yes."
"But we should be realistic because a very important element for us, and the guiding principle, is not to endanger peace and security and stability in the region, and not to foreclose the prospects for six-party talks, which are not in the best shape," Dolgov said.
The six-party talks between China, Russia, Japan, the two Koreas, and the United States aimed at curbing North Korea's nuclear program have stalled since September. The draft resolution strongly urges North Korea to immediately return to the talks "without precondition" and stop all nuclear-related activities with the aim of completely dismantling its nuclear programs, including both plutonium reprocessing and uranium enrichment.
China's President Hu Jintao told US President George W. Bush on Thursday that the best way to ensure a nuclear-free Korean peninsula was an early resumption of the six-party talks, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The Chinese leader also told the president in a phone call that Beijing is "committed to maintaining peace and stability in the Korean peninsula and opposed to any actions that might intensify the situation," the statement said.
"Under the current complicated circumstances, it is extremely necessary to maintain calm and restraint," the statement cited Hu as saying.
Bolton told reporters that 13 of the 15 Security Council members favored a resolution over a presidential statement, but he stressed that there was overwhelming support for "a very strong statement of condemnation" of North Korea's missile launches.
A strong response is needed, Bolton said, because of "the potential marriage of a nuclear weapons capability that North Korea claims it has, and it is certainly seeking, with effective long-range ballistic missile."
The Japanese draft resolution calls for action under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which is militarily enforceable, saying the missile launches "constitute a threat to international peace and security."
It would ban any country from transferring funds, material and technology that could be used in North Korea's missile and weapons of mass destruction programs.
North Korea has said sanctions would amount to a declaration of war, and China and Russia are clearly concerned that a U.N. demand for such measures would only make the current situation worse and delay a return to six-party talks.
"Sanctions are ... not the issue which we are to discuss now in the Security Council," Russia's Dolgov said.