- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 11, 2009

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) - The leaders of South Korea, China and Japan agreed Saturday to send North Korea a “powerful message” over its rocket launch, an official said, but their newfound unity could result in a weaker response than the one Tokyo originally sought.

The leaders shared the view that 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.

It was 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.

Their meeting came as the U.N. Security Council appeared to be making progress in breaking a deadlock over how to respond to North Korea’s April 5 rocket launch.

The communist nation launched what it said was a satellite, though the U.S., Japan and South Korea said it was actually testing long-range missile technology, which the North is banned from doing under a 2006 Security Council resolution. North Korea says satellite launches are allowed under a U.N. space treaty.

Wen and Aso were at odds during their meeting over whether the council should adopt a resolution or a presidential statement, Kim said. China, a key ally of North Korea, had pressed for a lighter reprimand. But Tokyo, which had been pushing for a full resolution, hinted that it would instead accept a presidential statement _ drafted by China in consultation with Washington _ that was circulated Thursday.

“When push comes to shove, Japan will not insist on a particular format” if three requirements are met, Aso spokesman Osamu Sakashita said. He said the message must be “strong, unanimous and at an early date.”

Security Council resolutions are considered the strongest response the council can take. A presidential statement is considered a lesser response, though the U.S. and others believe it carries equal clout.

Wen said China “will make efforts” to ensure that the three countries respond with a unified voice soon through the U.N., the spokeswoman said.

Their unity cleared the hurdle in the Security Council as its five permanent members _ Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S. _ and Japan prepare to continue their discussions Saturday in New York.

The three leaders agreed that the specific format and wording of the message should be worked out at the Security Council, Kim said.

Their 30-minute meeting took place following the abrupt cancellation of a broader gathering of regional leaders after Thai anti-government protesters stormed the venue of the East Asia Summit in the beach resort of Pattaya, 90 miles (140 kilometers) southeast of Bangkok.

Japan’s mass-circulation Yomiuri newspaper reported Saturday from New York that the statement would also contain other points, including a demand that North Korea abstain from more launches, a call for the drawing up of further economic sanctions against it and the early resumption of six-party talks aimed at the North’s denuclearization.

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.

The council could adopt the statement through a vote next week if an agreement on its wording is produced Saturday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported, also citing diplomatic sources.

___

Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Malcolm Foster in Pattaya contributed to this report.

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