The United States and Japan said they want a vote Saturday on a U.N. resolution that would impose sanctions on North Korea for its claimed nuclear test and demand the elimination of its nuclear weapons. But last-minute changes sought by Russia and China could delay a vote.
The five permanent council members — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France — and Japan met late Friday afternoon to discuss their concerns and were to meet again Saturday morning before the full 15-member Security Council convenes.
"I'm still ready to go for a vote, and we'll just have to see what the instructions are overnight, in particular from Moscow and China," U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said late Friday. "I thought we had agreed. We had agreed this morning that we were going to vote tomorrow morning."
He said the changes sought by Russia were essentially technical, not "substantial" and two of the four had been resolved. The Chinese change was also minor, and "that's one reason why I think it's still possible to vote tomorrow," he said.
Meanwhile, one of the many U.S. air tests around North Korea found radioactive gas consistent with an atomic explosion, but American officials have not reached any definitive conclusion about the blast, a senior Bush administration official said on condition of anonymity Friday in Washington. "The betting is that this was an attempt at a nuclear test that failed," the official said.
The latest U.N. draft resolution expressly rules out military action against North Korea, a demand by the Russians and Chinese. The Americans also eliminated a complete ban on the sale of conventional weapons; instead, the draft limits the embargo to major hardware such as tanks, warships, combat aircraft and missiles.
But the resolution would still ban the import or export of material and equipment that could be used to make nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles, and would authorize all countries to inspect cargo leaving from and arriving in North Korea to prevent any illegal trafficking.
The accord came as North Korean ships loaded their final cargo of secondhand bicycles and household appliances in Sakaiminato, a Japanese port city a short journey from the North, after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet agreed to ban trade with the communist state. The unilateral Japanese sanctions also include a six-month ban on travel to Japan by all North Korean government officials.
The United States and other nations trying to persuade the North to give up its atomic program continued a flurry of high-level diplomatic visits. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice planned a trip next week to Asia. Russia sent an envoy to Pyongyang. The presidents of China and South Korea — the North's main sources of trade and aid — met in Beijing to discuss the proposed resolution.
Bolton said earlier Friday that the council's agreement just five days after North Korea's announcement it had detonated a nuclear device was "a sign of the determination of the council in the face of this threat to move quickly."
The U.S.-sponsored draft would declare that Monday's test claimed by North Korea had increased tension in northeast Asia, creating "a clear threat to international peace and security." It would condemn the claimed test in "flagrant disregard" of the council's appeal not to detonate a nuclear device, demand that North Korea not conduct any further test or launch any more ballistic missiles, and authorize a range of economic and diplomatic sanctions.
The draft would also freeze the financial assets of individuals and entities with any connection to North Korea's weapons or missile programs and slap a travel ban on anyone associated with these programs. It would also ban countries from selling luxury goods to North Korea.
Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya, asked earlier whether Beijing was prepared to go along with the ban, said: "I don't know what luxury goods means, because luxury goods can mean many things for different people."
In another key change to gain Chinese and Russian support, the resolution now says the inspection process — which covers shipments by land, air and sea — will be "cooperative" with local authorities. Both China and Russia share borders with North Korea and are uncomfortable with the possibility of the U.S. inderdicting ships near their coasts. At any rate, Bolton said he expected most actions would be performed at ports.
South Korea's Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, who has been a key figure in dealings with North Korea, told reporters soon after the General Assembly voted by acclamation to appoint him as the next secretary-general that he hopes the Security Council will be able to adopt the resolution Saturday and send "a very strong and clear message" to Pyongyang.
The resolution would rely on all countries to implement the sanctions, but it would create a sanctions committee comprising all 15 Security Council nations to monitor implementation and report any violations to the council for possible further action.
The council's moves coincided with a Russian news agency report that North Korea favors the implementation of a year-old agreement to abandon its nuclear programs in exchange for aid and security guarantees. The ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Alexeyev speaking after consultations in Pyongyang.
The report apparently referred to an agreement reached in September 2005 at six-party talks involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan. Pyongyang has boycotted the talks for the past 13 months to protest financial measures imposed by Washington for alleged counterfeiting and money-laundering.
Pyongyang said it "wants to resolve the issues linked with the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in the near future through negotiations," ITAR-Tass quoted Alexeyev as saying after a meeting with his North Korean counterpart.