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Security Council Can't Move on North Korea

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American, French and British diplomats are unable to pass a U.N. Security Council resolution threatening sanctions against North Korea for its recent flurry of missile tests. Officials say China threatened to veto the measure.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

At the United Nations today, diplomats again delayed a vote on a resolution to impose sanctions on North Korea for its recent missile tests. Diplomats say they're giving China some room to use its influence to try to get North Korea to stop testing missiles and return to talks.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, said the security council is taking up the issue on a daily basis, and this morning agreed to put off the vote to be - as he put it - fair and reasonable to China.

Britain's ambassador, Emyr Jones Perry, made clear all eyes are on China to see if it can influence North Korea.

Ambassador EMYR JONES PERRY (Britain Ambassador to U.N.): If China could actually deliver something very substantial from Pyongyang, it might obviate the need for a resolution. So against that background, the responsible position this morning was to say, you know, let's not push it.

KELEMEN: In Beijing, Chinese president Hu Jintao was quoted as telling a visiting North Korean official that China opposes any action that could spark more tension on the peninsula. It was a rare public rebuke.

A Chinese government spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, also had a message to Japan about Tokyo's attempts to get a strong U.N. security council resolution on the missile issue.

Ms. JIANG YU (Spokeswoman, China): (Through Translator) The Chinese side thinks the concerned draft resolution is an overreaction. If approved, it will aggravate contradictions and increase tension. It will harm the stability and peace in the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia. It will lead to division in the U.N. security council. It will harm efforts to restart six-party talks. Fundamental changes must be made to this draft.

KELEMEN: That's about as close as China has come to publicly threaten a veto. At the U.N., China has been circulating a non-binding presidential statement, which doesn't carry the same weight as the resolution. Russia is backing China.

A Japanese foreign ministry spokesman, Tomohiko Taniguchi, told the BBC that Japan's resolution is reasonable.

Mr. TOMOHIKO TANIGUCHI (Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Japan): Because a person is allowed to own a gun, it does not mean that he can fire it off in a train station, for instance, to see if it works. That is what Pyongyang effectively did and is still interested in doing. The multiple launch of as many as seven missiles, it has to be a source of grave concern for anyone.

KELEMEN: A state department spokesman tried to downplay the differences between the Chinese and Japanese approaches. Sean McCormack said everyone has the same goal in mind: to get North Korea to stop testing missiles and return to six party talks.

Mr. SEAN MCCORMACK (State Department Spokesman, United States): We're confident that the states - if there are any differences in points of views - that they'll come together. They'll bridge whatever differences may exist or may arise in the interest in bringing about a common solution to a common threat.

KELEMEN: The differences remained fairly significant at the United Nations, where diplomats have been struggling to come up with a unified message for Pyongyang.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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