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Key nations near agreement on NKorea sanctions

world Updated: Jun 05, 2009 11:17 IST

Ambassadors from key nations neared agreement on Thursday on new UN sanctions against North Korea for defying the Security Council and conducting a second nuclear test. But British Ambassador John Sawers' hope that diplomats would agree to final terms in intensive negotiations proved to be overly optimistic.

The proposals for a new UN resolution are being discussed by the five veto-wielding Security Council nations, the US, China, Russia, Britain and France, and the two countries most closely affected by the test, Japan and South Korea. They have been holding closed-door meetings since May 26, a day after North Korea's underground atomic blast.

The US, British and French ambassadors, who have been pressing for speedy council action, met on Thursday morning, and ambassadors from all seven countries held talks for over three hours on late Thursday afternoon.

"We are making progress," Sawers told reporters when he emerged after more than two hours of talks. "There's been intensive efforts today and let's hope that it produces a text that we can all refer back to our capitals this evening."

But when the meeting broke up more than an hour later, there was still no agreement. "We are very close," said Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin.

"We are working," said France's UN Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert. Japan's UN Ambassador Yukio Takasu told reporters, "We're making our best possible effort ... to have agreement as early as possible."

"The issues are serious, require very careful examination at all angles," he said. "That's why it is taking time." Once the seven ambassador agree on the text of a draft resolution, it will be sent to their governments for approval. The draft resolution will then be circulated to the other members of the 15-nation Security Council for consideration by their governments. So a vote is highly unlikely until the middle of next week at the earliest.

The Security Council imposed sanctions on North Korea after its first nuclear test in October 2006 though some have only been sporadically implemented, with many of the 192 UN member states ignoring them.

According to UN diplomats, who spoke on Wednesday on condition of anonymity because the negotiations are closed, the latest proposals being considered for the new resolution include:

- Controls on the flow of capital to North Korea from international financial institutions like the Asian Development Bank;

- Enforcing an arms embargo on heavy weapons, especially on North Korean exports to countries like Syria;

- An asset freeze on more companies involved in the North's banned weapons programs. The council already had ordered an asset freeze on three North Korean companies after Pyongyang launched a rocket in April.

A partial draft of the resolution, obtained on last Friday, calls on UN members "immediately to enforce" the sanctions imposed in 2006, which include ship searches for illegal weapons and a ban on luxury goods.

It would have the Security Councill condemn "in the strongest terms" the North's nuclear test "in flagrant violation and disregard" of the 2006 resolution, and demand a halt to any further nuclear test or launch.

The draft would also reiterate the council's demand that North Korea abandon all nuclear weapons, return to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, allow UN nuclear inspections and rejoin six-party talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear program.