UNITED NATIONS — Eight days after North Korea's rocket launch, the U.N. Security Council on Monday unanimously condemned the action, demanded an end to missile tests and said it will expand sanctions against the reclusive communist nation.
The council's statement, agreed on by all 15 members and read at a formal meeting of the United Nations' most powerful body, said the launch violated a council resolution adopted after the North conducted a nuclear test explosion in 2006 that banned any missile tests by the country.
The statement was a weaker response than a U.N. resolution, which was sought by Japan and the United States but was opposed by China and Russia. U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice insisted the statement is legally binding, just like a resolution — a view backed by Russia — but other diplomats and officials disagreed.
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Japanese Ambassador Yukio Takasu, calling his country the most threatened by the rocket launch, said his government was "very pleased" by the unanimous message to North Korea that it conducted a "very provocative act" and violated the 2006 resolution.
North Korea warned earlier that any move to censure it at the U.N. could prompt its withdrawal from negotiations on dismantling the communist regime's nuclear weapons program. The North's talks with the U.S., China, Japan, South Korea and Russia are currently stalled.
In the statement, the Security Council expresses support for those talks and "calls for their early resumption." It also expresses the council's desire "for a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the situation" and for efforts to achieve "the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula."
President Barack Obama called the statement a "clear and united message" that North Korea's action was unlawful and would result in real consequences, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a release.
Gibbs said the international community is united in demanding that North Korea abandon its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, and that it refrain from further provocations.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and many council members also stressed the importance of sending a united message.
Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, hopes the council's "unified response will pave the way for renewed efforts towards the peaceful resolution of all outstanding issues in the region, including through the early resumption of the six-party talks and the inter-Korean dialogue," U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said.
North Korea carried out the rocket launch in face of intense international pressure, saying it put a satellite in orbit as allowed under a U.N. space treaty. The U.S., Japan and South Korea claimed North Korea was really testing long-range missile technology, in violation of the 2006 resolution.
Mexican Ambassador Claude Heller, the current council president, told reporters the statement is "a positive compromise" and sends "a very strong, clear, message that shows the unity of the Security Council on this very important matter."
It's up to North Korea to fill the "confidence gap" about its activities, Heller said.
The statement "condemns" the April 5 "launch" — without specifying whether it was a missile or a satellite — and demands that North Korea "not conduct further launches."
Saying the United States was pleased by the council's action, Rice told reporters: "The U.S. view is that what likely was on top of that missile with ballistic missile technology was a failed satellite. I think most members of the council have come to the same conclusion."
She added that the U.S. considered the statement's demand that North Korea "not conduct further launches" a key element. It means "launches that employ satellite or space-launch vehicles are prohibited," she said.
The statement demands that Pyongyang must fully implement the 2006 resolution, which ordered the North to suspend all ballistic missile activities and "abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner."
In the statement, the council "agrees" to expand sanctions under the 2006 resolution, which ordered a financial freeze on assets belonging to companies and groups tied to North Korean programs for nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles and other weapons of mass destruction and banned the sale of specific goods used in those programs.
Since its adoption, no North Korean companies or organizations have been put on the list, diplomats said.
The statement says the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against North Korea is to report by April 24 on companies, equipment and technologies that should be listed. If the committee fails to act, the council itself will then come up with a list by April 30, the statement says.
The United States and Japan said they planned to submit names for the list.
The breakthrough in the U.N. response to the rocket launch came after Japan on Saturday dropped its demand that the council adopt a resolution, which is the strongest action the body can take.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin called the statement "a measured response" and said "most of the credit" for achieving consensus "must go to the U.S. and China."
China opposed a resolution with new sanctions because it wanted the council's reaction "to be cautious and proportionate," Chinese Ambassador Zhang Yesui said.
"What is important is for all the parties concerned to keep calm and restraint and work together for maintaining peace and stability in northeast Asia," he said.