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Last Updated: Monday, 10 July 2006, 23:55 GMT 00:55 UK
UN delays N Korea sanctions vote
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill (R) and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso (L)
US envoy Christopher Hill has been holding talks around the region
A United Nations Security Council vote threatening economic sanctions over North Korea's missile tests has been postponed to give diplomacy more time.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the delay was intended to support Chinese attempts to ease tensions.

China, North Korea's traditional ally, has sent officials to Pyongyang to try to resolve the crisis, which follows the firing of seven ballistic missiles.

China, Russia and South Korea have already voiced opposition to sanctions.

Japanese concerns

"The people who have put forward this resolution - and by the way, there are a number of co-sponsors to this resolution - believe very strongly that North Korea has to have a message from the international community that their current course is disruptive and will isolate them," Ms Rice said.

"But we do think that the Chinese mission to North Korea has some promise, and we would like to let that play out," she added.

2002 picture of Taepodong-type missile
Pyongyang warns UN sanctions would be strongly opposed

Japan had proposed the punitive resolution after North Korea test-fired seven missiles last week.

But earlier, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Japan would not insist on a vote on the draft resolution on Monday.

But he added that Japan wanted to send the clearest possible message to Pyongyang, and would continue to push for a vote as soon as possible.

"The vice minister of China is going to North Korea to persuade them," Reuters news agency quoted Mr Koizumi as saying. "Under such circumstances, there is no need to insist on a vote on the 10th."

The US has repeatedly urged China to increase the pressure on Pyongyang, and persuade it to return to six-party talks on its nuclear programme, which have been deadlocked since November.

'Need one voice'

But China has not confirmed it will raise the issue of the talks and after a meeting in Tokyo with the Japanese foreign minister, US nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill expressed doubts about the extent of Beijing's influence over Pyongyang.

The US envoy has been visiting many countries in the region as part of diplomatic moves to decide how to respond to last week's tests.

He said Washington and Tokyo were working together closely on the issue, and called for a united stand. "We need to speak with one voice," he said.

"North Korea has a choice of whether to go for continued isolation or to join the international community," he said. "I hope they will make the right choice."

North Korea raised tensions last week when it test-fired seven missiles - including a long-range Taepodong-2, a weapon which is believed to be capable of reaching Alaska.

Neighbours divided

While Japan is in favour of sanctions against Pyongyang, analysts say it is becoming increasingly apparent that other Asian nations are not in agreement.

There is no reason to fuss over this from the break of dawn like Japan
Roh Moo-hyun's office
South Korean president

Soon after Mr Hill left South Korea, Seoul criticised Tokyo over its draft resolution urging economic sanctions against the North.

"There is no reason to fuss over this from the break of dawn like Japan, but every reason to do the opposite," said a statement from South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun's office.

China and Russia, the North's traditional allies, have also voiced opposition to the UN resolution.

Both China and Russia have the power of veto in the Security Council and, according to Chinese diplomatic sources quoted by Kyodo news agency, Beijing may well chose to use this power.

Meanwhile North Korea's state media has kept up its hostile rhetoric. A commentary quoted the leader Kim Jong-il as saying no ground would be given to US aggressors.

North Korean diplomats have been warning of strong counter-measures if sanctions are imposed.

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