After North Korea test-fired seven missiles last week, Japan formally introduced a UN resolution, co-sponsored by the United States, Britain and France, to impose sanctions against Pyongyang's missile programme.

But in the face of strong opposition from Security Council members China and Russia, the senior US envoy for North Korea said on Sunday he backed Beijing's proposal for talks.

For its part, South Korea questioned whether UN sanctions would help resolve the latest row or make the region any safer.
"For the time being, we do not have clear grounds or reasoning that these sanctions will work for preventing any missile proliferation, or any factors that destabilise the regional stability," Song Min-soon, the presidential national security adviser, told Reuters.

'One voice'

On Sunday the Yonhap news agency reported North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il saying his country would not budge in negotiations with the US and that it was ready to meet any attack with a strong blow of its own.

The broadcast did not say when Kim made the comments.

"If North Korea wants to isolate itself, we will do our best to oblige them."

Christopher Hill, US envoy

The Japanese foreign minister, Taro Aso, said Tokyo would not back down on its sanctions demand. "For us, only a binding resolution has any meaning," he told NHK television on Sunday.

But the US envoy, Christopher Hill, told reporters in Seoul: "My mission here is not to get sanctions. My mission here is to make sure that we can all speak with one voice to deal with this real provocative action by the North Koreans.

 

"What it [North Korea] needs to do is get back to the talks and implement what it has already agreed to do, which is to get out of this dirty nuclear business that it is in and get on with the task of modernising their country."

After an initial stop in Beijing, Hill arrived in Tokyo from Seoul on Sunday evening and said he saw no splintering among the parties.

"All countries are showing resolve in the ways that they can," he said and confirmed that Japan was looking at bilateral sanctions involving some of its direct contacts with North Korea, which the US.does not have.

Stalled talks

Hill earlier told a small group of reporters in Seoul that the United States was keen to pursue diplomacy with North Korea but would have no qualms in seeing Pyongyang further isolated.

"If North Korea wants to isolate itself, we will do our best to oblige them."

The six-nation talks were postponed late last year. The North boycotted the forum in a protest over US financial pressure, which analysts say is hurting the impoverished country.

China has proposed convening an informal six-way meeting in Shenyang, a northeastern city near the Korean border, to seek an end the impasse. Hill has expressed US support for proposal.

Hill repeated Washington's position that, within the framework of the six-party talks, there could be a bilateral meeting between the US and North Korea.

The US president, George Bush, has repeatedly ruled out sitting down at the table with North Koreans outside that forum and insists that other countries must come up with a unified response to North Korea's latest missile tests.