Key Nations Near Agreement on Tougher Sanctions Against North Korea

Seven key nations neared agreement Tuesday on a new U.N. resolution that would toughen sanctions against North Korea for defying the Security Council and conducting a second nuclear test, but diplomats said Russia still had problems with the text.

Ambassadors from the five veto-wielding Security Council nations — the U.S., China, Russia, Britain and France — and the two countries most closely affected by the test, Japan and South Korea, had hoped to announce agreement on the text after a two-hour closed-door meeting on Tuesday morning but it was not to be, diplomats said.

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"We're making progress, but we're not done yet," U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said, speaking on behalf of the seven countries. "We're all working through a large set of very complex difficult issues, and this is a very technical endeavor. ... I am hopeful that this will be concluded relatively soon."

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said in a statement that the latest version of the draft had been sent to Moscow.

"We are satisfied that consensus is emerging on the text of the draft," he said.

The Western powers, Japan and South Korea have been pressing for strong measures in a new resolution, and North Korea's closest allies, Russia and China, have said the Security Council must deliver a "convincing response" to the May 25 nuclear test.

But their foreign ministers stressed that the North's nuclear weapons problem can only be solved through diplomatic and political means, and diplomats said China's objections have been resolved but Russia still has problems with the proposed resolution.

North Korea has bristled at any talk of sanctions.

On Monday, Pyongyang's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said the country will consider any sanctions a declaration of war and will respond to it with "due corresponding self-defense measures." On Tuesday, North Korea said it would use nuclear weapons in a "merciless offensive" if provoked.

A draft resolution sent to the seven governments on Friday would curtail North Korea's financial dealings with the outside world, freeze assets of additional companies, expand an arms embargo, and authorize searches of ships on the high seas suspected of carrying arms and banned weapons to the North if the country whose flag the vessel is flying gives consent.

According to that draft, if the country doesn't give its consent — a virtual certainty if the ship is North Korean — the country shall "direct the vessel to proceed to an appropriate and convenient port for the required inspection by the local authorities." Several diplomats questioned whether this would actually lead to inspections.

The draft would have the Security Council condemn "in the strongest terms" the North's nuclear test "in violation and flagrant disregard" of the sanctions resolution it approved after Pyongyang's first nuclear test in October 2006.

It would also demand a halt to further nuclear test or missile launch and reiterate the council's demand that the North abandon all nuclear weapons, return to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, allow U.N. nuclear inspections, and rejoin six-party talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear program.

All the diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because the negotiations are taking place in private.

If the seven countries agree on a text, it will then be circulated to the remaining members on the 15-nation Security Council. Japan and nine other countries are serving two-year terms on the council, while South Korea is not a member.