- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 11, 2009

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Key Security Council nations reached agreement Saturday on a statement that would condemn North Korea’s rocket launch and toughen sanctions against the reclusive communist nation, council diplomats said.

The five permanent veto-wielding members _ the U.S., China, Russia, Britain and France _ and Japan met after Japan backed down from a demand that the Security Council adopt a new resolution, the strongest response from the U.N.’s most powerful body.

A presidential statement is considered a weaker reaction by the council. The draft statement condemns North Korea’s April 5 rocket launch and makes clear that it was a violation of a Security Council resolution adopted after the North conducted a nuclear test in 2006 which bans any missile tests by the country, the diplomats said.

The statement calls for freezing the assets of companies or organizations involved in transactions related to the import or export of missiles, nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, the diplomats said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the negotiations took place behind closed doors

China and Russia, the North Koreans’ strongest allies, refused to go along with a new resolution, which the United States was also seeking. But while Japan kept insisting on a resolution, the U.S. indicated it would also accept a strong presidential statement from the council, the diplomats said.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice emerged from the nearly two-hour meeting saying they had agreed on the text and would meet later Saturday afternoon with the other council members to give them the text.

“We think text sends a clear message,” Rice said, without disclosing details.

North Korea has warned that any move to censure it at the U.N. could prompt its withdrawal from the nuclear disarmament talks, which involve China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the U.S.

A presidential statement must be approved by consensus, meaning that all 15 council members must approve it before it is read at a formal council meeting by its president. It becomes part of the council’s official record, unlike a press statement. The U.S. and others argue that presidential statements, like resolutions, are legally binding.

North Korea carried out the launch in defiance of intense international pressure, claiming it launched a satellite which is allowed under a U.N. space treaty. The United States, Japan and South Korea claim it was really testing long-range missile technology, which Pyongyang is banned from doing.

The global community should “promptly send a powerful message to North Korea in a unified voice,” South Korean presidential spokeswoman Kim Eun-hye said in a statement issued after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso met on the sidelines of a chaotic regional summit in Thailand.

The draft presidential statement would add more material and technologies to the list of items banned from North Korea under the 2006 resolution, the diplomats said.

Under the draft, the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against North Korea would be given two weeks to agree to the companies, material and technologies to be banned, the diplomats said. If the committee failed to come up with a list, the Security Council itself would then come up with its own list, the diplomats said.

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