After three hours of closed-door talks, the UN Security Council failed to reach agreement on how to respond to North Korea's long-range rocket launch seen by most Western nations as a clear violation of UN resolutions.
"Members of the Security Council agreed to continue consultations on an appropriate action by the council in accordance with its responsibilities given the urgency of the matter," Mexico's UN Ambassador Claude Heller, the council chair this month, told reporters after Sunday's meeting.
The United States and Japan, which called for the meeting in response to what they view as Pyongyang's "provocative act," said the launch of a three-stage Taepodong-2 missile, with an estimated range of 4,100 miles (6,700 kilometers) violated Security Council resolution 1718.
That resolution, adopted in 2006 after the North's missile launches on July 5 and nuclear test on October 9 that year, demanded that Pyongyang refrain from any further nuclear test or another ballistic missile launch.
US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice told reporters that additional consultations would continue both here and in capitals around the world to try to agree "a clear and strong response from the council."
Diplomats said there was general agreement on expressing concern over the launch and calling on Pyongyang to return to the six-party talks and to respect UN resolutions.
"The fact of the launch was in itself a clear violation of (1718). The use of ballistic missile technology is a clear violation of the resolution which prohibits missile-related activities," Rice noted.
A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Rice, backed by her British and French colleagues, pressed for a "strong condemnation" of the North Korean action during the consultations.
But Russia, China, Libya, Uganda and Vietnam called for restraint in the council's reaction so as not to endanger the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear disarmament, the diplomat added.
The six-party talks bring together the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
"We are now in a very sensitive moment. All countries concerned should show restraint and refrain from taking action that might lead to increased tension," China's UN Ambassador Zhang Yesui told reporters.
"Our position is that the council's reaction has be cautious and proportionate," he added, vowing that his country would participate in the discussions in a "constructive and responsible manner."
His Japanese counterpart, Yukio Takasu, insisted that Tokyo wanted a "clear, firm and unified response" from the council in the form of a resolution.
"Rules must be binding, violations must be punished, words must mean something," US President Barack Obama earlier said during a speech in Prague about ridding the world of nuclear weapons.
But Russia and China, both veto-wielding members of the Security Council, urged restraint.
"Relevant parties must ... avoid taking actions that could make the situation even more tense," Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said in a statement posted on the foreign ministry website.
Russia also urged restraint while a report said Moscow was studying whether Pyongyang had broken any UN Security Council resolutions.
Diplomats here say Beijing and Moscow are likely to block any bid by the United States and its Western allies to push for new sanctions on North Korea over the latest rocket launch.