US agrees to watered-down sanctions against North Korea

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The United Nations will pass a watered-down package of sanctions this morning, aimed at punishing North Korea for its reported nuclear test after China and Russia resisted a more robust response.

Diplomats expect the Security Council unanimously to adopt a resolution that will voice "gravest concern" over the test claim made by North Korea on Monday and describe the act as a "threat to international peace and security". The US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, will travel next week to the region, including to South Korea and China, to discuss the crisis.

Faced with deadlock in the Council, the United States agreed to drop some of the harsher elements from earlier drafts of the resolution that had attracted strong criticism from China and Russia. The milder package will also disappoint Japan, which yesterday said it was imposing additional sanctions of its own.

The resolution will take its authority from Chapter 7 of the UN Charter - a point of principle on which the US insisted throughout.

But carefully negotiated wording in the text will make it clear that its provisions will be implemented only according to article 41 of the chapter, which allows for legally binding economic and diplomatic sanctions but not for military action to enforce them.

Sanctions will include a broad arms embargo, a ban on luxury sales to North Korea and measures to encourage countries to inspect all cargo shipments in and out of the country, in part to frustrate any attempt by Pyongyang to proliferate its weapons technology around the world. International travel will also be forbidden for North Korean officials with any connection to the country's weapons programmes.

An unrepentant North Korea said last week that it would consider any UN resolution an act of war and hinted that it may respond with an additional test.

There is still no confirmation in the West that the explosion on Monday was nuclear in nature.

Highlighting the luxury goods ban, John Bolton, the US Ambassador in New York noted that the "North Korean people have been losing average height and weight over the years" under the repressive regime of Kim Jong Il. "Maybe this will be a little diet for Kim Jong-Il," he added.

The resolution also demands North Korea drop its nuclear weapons programme and return without delay to the six-country talks on ending its nuclear ambitions. It has boycotted the talks for the past 13 months.