On Thursday, for the first time, 12 of the 15 Security Council members said they favoured sending perpetrators of atrocities in Darfur to the new International Criminal Court in The Hague, which the Bush administration opposes.
No formal vote was taken.
Opposition during consultations late on Wednesday also came from China and Algeria, which agreed with Sudan that Khartoum should use its own courts and want no referral to either the ICC or to a US-proposed new ad hoc court in Tanzania.
Although the Bush administration has been in the forefront of recommending tough action on Sudan, it rejects using the ICC, which it fears could bring political prosecutions against Americans abroad.
Instead it has lobbied for a new court for Sudan to be convened in Arusha, Tanzania, using facilities of the 1994 Rwanda genocide tribunal.
"Our position hasn't changed," said Richard Grenell, spokesman for the US mission to the United Nations.
12 out of 15 Security Council
members favour the ICC
"We want immediate sanctions and that is what we are pushing for," Grenell said.
"We certainly want to hold them accountable and the exact mechanism we will talk about later."
The United States proposed a draft resolution on Monday that would impose an arms embargo, an asset freeze on violators of a cease-fire in Darfur and restrictions on offensive government military flights.
But the draft omitted a venue for the trials.
Access to justice
The issue of prosecutions became acute after a UN-appointed panel last month gave Secretary General Kofi Annan a list of 51 suspects and evidence of killings, pillaging and rape in Darfur where at least 70,000 people died and 2 million were forced out of their homes.
The panel of law experts recommended the ICC.
"There is no hope for sustainable peace in Darfur without immediate access to justice," Louise Arbour, the UN high commissioner for human rights told the council on Wednesday in formally introducing the report.
The UN Security Council remains
divided over Darfur trials
"This is a case where to indict and arrest certain persons could actually prevent the commission of crimes and actually save lives and protect victims."
According to diplomats at the meeting, France, Greece, Denmark, Brazil and Argentina strongly backed the ICC.
"The ICC has the mandate, the capacity and the funding to ensure swift and cost-effective prosecution," Danish Ambassador Ellen Margrethe Loj said on Thursday.
Japan and Philippines supported a referral to the court while Russia, Romania, Tanzania and Benin backed the ICC but said there was a need for council unity. Britain strongly backed the ICC but emphasized the entire council had to
The meeting came after Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy representative, told Reuters the EU might fail in its bid to refer the Darfur crisis to the ICC because of Washington's opposition and may have to settle for the Tanzanian option.