The U.N. Security Council has postponed a vote on possible sanctions against North Korea to allow time for a Chinese diplomatic mission to Pyongyang. The postponement reflects a sharp split among the five veto-wielding Council members.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed hope Monday that a Chinese delegation visiting Pyongyang could persuade North Korea to return to six-party talks on its nuclear program.
With that in mind, the United States and like-minded countries agreed to delay consideration of a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would impose sanctions on North Korea for test-firing ballistic missiles.
Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said the negotiations had been suspended while diplomacy proceeds in Pyongyang.
"We think it's important to keep the focus on Pyongyang, which after all is the source of this problem, and to provide maximum support for and leverage on the Chinese mission to Pyongyang," said John Bolton.
U.N. diplomats say the resolution's main sponsors, Japan and the United States, would drop their demand for sanctions in exchange for a renewed North Korean commitment to a moratorium on missile testing, and a return to six-party talks. Ambassador Bolton says Washington would wait and see whether China can persuade North Korean leaders to agree.
"This is entirely an exercise of Chinese diplomacy," he said. "They've surely been embarrassed by these provocative missile launches, and they've said they view this mission as a high-level and important mission and consideration of our withholding from pressing for a vote today is really based on their representation last week as to what the impact of the mission can be."
The postponement also reflects sharp disagreements within the Council on the text of the resolution, which would forbid the transfer to North Korea of items that could be used in missiles or weapons of mass destruction.
Days of consultations among the five permanent Council members and Japan have failed to persuade China and Russia to support the strongly worded measure.
Senior Chinese officials have suggested China might take the rare step of using its Security Council veto to block the resolution. Beijing's U.N. ambassador, Wang Guangya, emerged from a Monday negotiating session saying China could not support the draft as currently written.
"Basically we asked them to modify their position," said Wang Guangya. "If they wish to have a resolution, they should have a modified one, not this one."
He told VOA that China would categorically reject any resolution that declares North Korea a threat to peace and seeks to impose sanctions under the legally binding Chapter Seven of the U.N. Charter.
"Basically, remove three things," he said. "The determination that this is a threat to international peace and security, because for China, we can't accept negative implications for regional peace and stability. Secondly, remove Chapter Seven, thirdly, there are no mandatory sanctions."
The envoy said China would prefer a simple statement from the Council criticizing North Korea's missile tests.
News agencies say a high-level Chinese delegation arrived in Pyongyang Monday for a six-day visit. The delegation was headed by Chinese Vice-Premier Hui Liangyu and also included a deputy foreign minister considered China's top diplomat on nuclear issues.