UNITED NATIONS - Supporters of a resolution that would impose limited sanctions on North Korea agreed to delay a vote in the hope that China can pressure Pyongyang to return to six-party talks on its nuclear program and halt missile tests, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said Monday.
Ambassadors from the five veto-wielding nations on the Security Council - who are divided over sanctions - met with Japan, which sponsored the resolution, as a Chinese delegation arrived in North Korea pledging friendship and deeper ties.
Bolton told reporters after the meeting that the resolution's supporters - including the U.S., Britain, France and other European council members - decided not to press for a vote Monday "while the diplomacy in Pyongyang proceeds."
"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," he said.
On July 5, North Korea test-fired seven missiles, apparently including a long-range one that potentially could reach the United States.
The United States wants North Korea to return to the moratorium on ballistic missile launches from the Korean peninsula and to not only return to the six-party talks but implement the joint statement agreed to by the six parties in September, he said.
In that statement, North Korea made a commitment to abandon "all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning at an early date" to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The six parties - the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia - also reaffirmed that the goal of the talks "is the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner."
According to a Japanese news report, Japan and the United States suggested to China that a vote on the sanctions resolution could be avoided if North Korea renewed the moratorium on missile testing and returned to six-party talks.
Asked about the Kyodo News agency report, which cited unidentified Japanese officials, Bolton replied, "Well I think that's basically what I've stated somewhat differently. The point is, we want to keep the spotlight on Chinese diplomacy in Pyongyang, which is the source of this problem."
But when pressed, he refused to say whether the United States would agree to drop the sanctions resolution if North Korea returned to talks, agreed to implement the September agreement, and reimposed the moratorium. He said there were "a lot of ifs" and Washington wants to wait to see what comes out of the Chinese meetings in Pyongyang.
That's why the sponsors of the resolution "will reevaluate on a daily basis whether to proceed" with a vote on the Japanese draft, Bolton said.
The Chinese delegation, which is led by Vice Premier Hui Liangyu and includes China's main nuclear negotiator, Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, arrived in Pyongyang on a six-day visit to celebrate the 45th anniversary of a friendship treaty between the neighbors. A North Korean delegation was also expected in China on Tuesday to mark the treaty anniversary.
China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya told reporters after Monday morning's meeting with envoys from Russia, the United States, Britain, France and Japan that "the members have different views so we agreed that we will continue consultations about that."
China and Russia oppose sanctions and have been pressing for a weaker Security Council presidential statement, which is not legally binding. But Wang indicated for the first time that China might be prepared to consider a weaker resolution.
"If they wish to have a resolution, they should have a modified one, not this one," Wang said.
Bolton said Washington would look at any Chinese suggestions for changes in the Japanese draft.
The Japanese draft, under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter which allows military enforcement, demands that North Korea immediately stop developing, testing, deploying and selling ballistic missiles.
It would ban all U.N. member states from acquiring North Korean missiles or weapons of mass destruction - or the parts or technology to produce them - and order all countries to take steps to prevent any material, technology or money for missile or weapons programs from reaching the North.
The draft resolution also urges North Korea to immediately return to six-party talks, which have been stalled since September.
Japanese officials also said Monday that negotiations may not be enough, using rhetoric unprecedented in the country that adopted a pacifist constitution after its defeat in World War II.
"If we accept that there is no other option to prevent an attack ... there is the view that attacking the launch base of the guided missiles is within the constitutional right of self-defense. We need to deepen discussion," Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said.
"It's irresponsible to do nothing when we know North Korea could riddle us with missiles," echoed Tsutomu Takebe, secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. "We should consider measures, including legal changes" required for such an attack, he said.
Japan's constitution foreswears the use of war to settle international disputes, but the government has interpreted that to allow defensive forces. The question is whether such a pre-emptive strike could be defined as self-defense.
Even if Japan resolves the constitutionality issue, its military capability to launch such a strike is another issue. The Defense Agency has said Japan does not own weapons such as ballistic missiles that could reach North Korea, only defensive ground-to-air and ground-to-vessel missiles.