An emergency meeting was called by Tokyo after Pyongyang test-fired seven missiles on Wednesday, including a long-range Taepodong-2 capable of reaching US soil, sparking outrage from neighbouring Japan and the United States.

Speaking after closed-door consultations on the issue adjourned, Japan's UN ambassador, Kenzo Oshima, said the 15-member council would resume talks on a draft resolution later in the day.

"We hope that the response of the council will be swift, strong and resolute," he said. "I think this is the general wish, as I heard it this morning in the council."

Earlier, Oshima's deputy, Shinichi Kitaoka, would not say whether the proposed draft resolution would call for sanctions against Pyongyang.

"It's within our consideration. We are thinking about that."

"Stern measures"

Japan's UN ambassador urged a
strong response

Tokyo has condemned the North Korean launches and threatened "stern measures", including possible economic sanctions against Pyongyang.

John Bolton, the US ambassador, said: "I think the preliminary discussion this morning was very interesting, because no member defended what the North Koreans have done.

"I think that the tenor of that discussion shows how little support there is in the international community as a whole for these North Korean missile launches."

Bolton expressed hope that the council would "reach agreement on [the draft] at an early date".

His Russian colleague, Vitaly Churkin, stressed the need to send a "strong and clear message" to Pyongyang but said that the goal should be the resumption of six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programme.

"I don't expect that anybody is going to propose any sanctions," the Russian envoy said.

Council statement

French ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, meanwhile, said Russia and China would prefer adoption of a non-binding council statement rather than a resolution.

"Thirteen delegations were in favour of a resolution and two delegations considered a presidential statement would be more appropriate."

Earlier, the Chinese ambassador, Wang Guangya, whose country is a close ally of Pyongyang, said that Beijing was concerned about the North Korean launches but that "action taken should be constructive to maintaining peace in that part of the world".

Beijing has refrained from condemning the missile tests, only urging all sides to "remain calm and exercise restraint", with analysts saying China will not endorse a tough response.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, confirmed that North Korea launched another missile, bringing to seven the number of missiles fired by the Stalinist state over a 24-hour period.

Disarmament talks

Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, said: "There has been a very strong response to their actions. So whatever the motivations, whatever they thought they were doing, they have gotten a strong reaction from the international community."

The European Union also condemned the launches, calling them "provocative" and saying they added to strain on regional stability.

The barrage of missiles launched by North Korea included a long-range Taepodong-2 missile that failed early in flight, according to US defence officials. The others were shorter-range missiles.

In Seoul, analysts said North Korea's first ballistic missile test since 1998 was aimed at forcing Washington to hold direct negotiations with the isolated communist state.

Weapons programme

They said the missile launches reflected North Korea's frustration with the six-nation talks.

The United States has sought to deal with North Korea through multilateral talks involving China, Japan, Russia and South Korea. However, discussions have been stalled since November.

On Wednesday, the United States again ruled out direct talks with North Korea in response to its missile launches but pressured Pyongyang to "step back" and rejoin negotiations.

Washington also pursued an aggressive diplomatic counter-offensive to the launches, reaching out to China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, France, Britain and other partners to shape a unified response to the situation.

The White House said the senior US envoy for North Korea, Christopher Hill, would leave for Asia later in the day to consult US partners on Pyongyang's missile launches.