A divided U.N. Security Council is facing a vote on whether to penalize North Korea for firing ballistic missiles. A majority of the Council favors tough sanctions, but two powerful veto-wielding members are adamantly opposed.
Japan, the United States, Britain and France formally introduced a toughly-worded draft Security Council resolution condemning North Korea's missile tests.
The legally-binding measure would call on all nations to take steps to bar the transfer of funds, technology and equipment related to North Korea's development of missiles or weapons of mass destruction.
The draft was introduced after two inconclusive rounds of negotiations Thursday night and Friday among the five permanent Security Council members and Japan.
The Japanese U.N. Ambassador Kenzo Oshima emerged from the negotiations expressing frustration at continuing opposition to the measure from Russia and China. He went straight to the Security Council to formally ask for a vote.
Referring to North Korea by its formal initials DPRK, Oshima said a formal meeting on the matter could come as early as Saturday.
"All cosponsors and Japan have said the Council as the responsible organ for peace and security should act firmly, robustly, and speedily in response to the grave situation created by the act of DPRK in making multiple missile launches," he said.
Diplomats privately say the vote might be put off until next week to allow more time for further negotiations.
President Bush discussed the issue during the day with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao. Diplomats said high-level contacts were continuing, including a visit to Pyongyang in the next few days by a senior Chinese official.
China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya has offered an alternative to the resolution. He proposed a non-binding statement, which condemns Pyongyang but does not include sanctions.
Wang declined to say whether China would use its Security Council veto to kill the measure. But he warned that a vote could have what he called "negative consequences".
"If this resolution is put to a vote, definitely there will be no unity in the Security Council," he said.
But Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton suggested there was no room for compromise on the question of a resolution that would be legally-binding under Chapter Seven of the U.N. Charter.
"We think it's important that the response be in the form of a resolution, binding resolution under chapter seven because of the nature of the threat to international peace and security that is represented by the North Korean missile launches," said Mr. Bolton.
Bolton said sentiment among Council members is solidly in favor of a legally-binding resolution.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency Friday quoted North Korea's deputy U.N. ambassador Han Song-Ryol as saying Pyongyang would consider sanctions as an act of war. The envoy said North Korea would only return to six-party talks on ending its nuclear program if the United States lifts sanctions on a bank in Macau.
The bank has been linked to illicit North Korean financial dealings, including counterfeiting U.S. currency.