The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council have failed to agree on a proposal condemning North Korea's nuclear program.
The Security Council is scheduled to take up the North Korean nuclear issue for the first time Wednesday despite warnings by Pyongyang against council action.
Pyongyang continues to warns that it views international sanctions as an act of war.
Nonetheless, the 15-member Security Council is scheduled to tackle the nuclear crisis in North Korea on Wednesday for the first time, one day before its withdrawal from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty officially takes effect.
Permanent members Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States have been holding private discussions prior to the scheduled Security Council consultations. But diplomats say that they have not reached an agreement condemning North Korea, which pulled out of the international atomic weapons treaty in January.
The United States has lobbied for a Security Council statement denouncing the action and urging Pyongyang to comply with nuclear safeguards. But North Korea's chief ally on the council, China, opposes U.N. involvement on the issue. Russia has also voiced reservations.
The U.N. Secretary General's special advisor on North Korea, Maurice Strong, who recently returned from the region, warns that military confrontation may be unlikely, but must be taken seriously.
"I think the risks are there. I certainly do not think war is inevitable, not even likely, but certainly possible," he said.
Washington wants to deal with the crisis multilaterally. But Pyongyang is insisting on bilateral discussions with the United States.
Mr. Strong says that the Security Council could play a crucial role in preventing a conflict, but only if it serves to bridge the gaps between the two opposing positions.
"If they take the tack which will escalate the confrontational nature of this, this will be a problem," he said. "If they move toward helping the process of negotiation between the parties, because there is no question that at some stage even the Security Council can not obviate the need for negotiations. Both parties have said they intend to negotiate. It's a question of timing and the modalities."
Mr. Strong says that despite assurances from Washington, the war in Iraq has led Pyongyang to believe that North Korea will be the next target of U-S-led military action, with or without United Nations support. President Bush has described North Korea as part of a, quote "axis of evil."
The U-N nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, referred the North Korea issue to the Security Council last February after passing its own resolution expressing concern that Pyongyang had violated international nuclear safeguards and expelled U-N weapons inspectors.