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Seoul, Beijing debate NK sanctions

Presidents of China and South Korea met Friday to discuss possible sanctions against North Korea for its claimed nuclear test, as Japan passed a new set of penalties against the Asian country.

Meanwhile, some progress was reported at the United Nations on a draft resolution calling for sanctions against Pyongyang. Meeting in Beijing, Chinese President Hu Jintao said he and his South Korean counterpart, Roh Moo-hyun, "achieved important agreement" on the nuclear dispute in a 50-minute meeting, according to reports from The Associated Press.

Both Seoul and Beijing, the North's main sources of aid and trade, support sanctions but have warned against worsening the situation by overreacting. In Tokyo, however, the Japanese Cabinet on Friday approved wide-ranging sanctions on North Korea in the wake of its claim to have conducted a nuclear test on Monday. Japan has joined the United States in calling for the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on North Korea that would be binding on all U.N. member states, in a bid to pressure North Korea to return to negotiations and give up its nuclear ambitions.

U.S. President George W. Bush has warned the North Koreans not to act aggressively against its neighbors, saying the United States would honor its commitments to back Japan and South Korea militarily in the event of an attack.

Warnings of overreaction

Both Seoul and Beijing, the North's main sources of aid and trade, support sanctions but have warned against worsening the situation by overreacting. "Sanctions should be done in a way that brings the effect we want, rather than being implemented emotionally and as an instant reaction," a South Korean official said at a briefing in Seoul, according to the South's Yonhap news agency. The official was not identified by name. Roh's office confirmed the content of the remarks, according to The Associated Press.

The latest U.S. draft of a United Nations resolution, obtained by The Associated Press, says any further action would need a new resolution, a key Chinese demand. It was circulated Thursday night to the 15-member Security Council after the five permanent members and Japan overcame key differences and neared agreement on a resolution.

China, a permanent council member with power to veto U.N. actions, has opposed more severe measures proposed by Washington, saying it wants time to work out a more moderate response. Roh and Hu were likely to discuss such "effectiveness-oriented ways of sanctioning North Korea" and possibly the Security Council draft, the South Korean official said, according to Yonhap.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is likely to visit South Korea next week, another South Korean official in Seoul said Friday. Final details of the trip were still under discussion, the official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because the visit had not been announced officially.

Rice also was expected to visit Japan next Tuesday on a trip that is also likely to include a stop in China, Japan's Kyodo News agency reported Friday, citing unidentified Japanese and U.S. officials.

Fear of military response

At the United Nations, the United States insisted a resolution must be under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which authorizes punishments ranging from breaking diplomatic ties and imposing economic sanctions to naval blockades and military actions, AP reported.

The new U.S. draft eliminates the blanket arms embargo in the previous draft and instead would bar transfers of specific equipment including tanks, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile systems, armored combat vehicles and large-caliber artillery systems.

It keeps the requirement that all countries prevent the sale or transfer of luxury goods and material and technology that could help North Korea's nuclear, ballistic missile or other weapons of mass destruction-related programs.

The new draft would condemn the nuclear test, demand that North Korea immediately return to six-party talks without preconditions and impose sanctions for disregarding the council's appeal. It would also demand that North Korea "not conduct any further nuclear test or launch of a ballistic missile." Beijing and Moscow objected to the wide scope of financial sanctions and a provision authorizing the inspection of cargo going in and out of North Korea, council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because talks are private, AP reported. There is concern among some diplomats that boarding North Korean ships could lead to a military response from the North.

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