NEW YORK (CNN) — The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council have agreed on a resolution that would expand and tighten sanctions on North Korea, two senior Western diplomats at the United Nations said Wednesday.
The permanent members — China, France, Russia, Britain and the United States — reached the agreement in consultation with Japan and South Korea.
The council began discussions late Wednesday morning. A vote is possible Thursday or Friday, according to several diplomats, including French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert.
The agreement comes amid rising tension with North Korea, which recently conducted a nuclear test, fired test rockets, and threatened U.S. and South Korean ships near its territorial waters. The nuclear test and the firing of six short-range rockets same in late May.
Pyongyang’s actions violated U.N. resolutions.
Adding another wrinkle to the situation, two American journalists arrested in North Korea were convicted Monday of illegal entry to the country and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Late last month, two Defense Department officials said U.S. satellite imagery spotted “vehicle activity” at a North Korean ballistic missile facility. The officials said the images showed vehicles used to transport Taepodong-2 missiles, but no missile parts. The Taepodong-2 is a long-range missile that was tested earlier this year by North Korea.
That test, in April, showed a significant improvement in range from North Korea’s initial long-range missile test in 2006.
President Obama’s special envoy to the secretive communist state, Stephen Bosworth, called “simply groundless” accusations by Pyongyang that its nuclear and missile tests were in response to American aggression.
Washington officials have said the United States’ goal is for North Korea to return to nuclear negotiations with the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia, known as the “six-party talks.”
The families of two US journalists held in North Korea have pleaded with the authorities there to set the pair free.
In a statement, relatives of Euna Lee and Laura Ling said reports that the women had been sentenced to 12 years in a labour camp were “devastating”.
They were convicted of entering the North illegally while filming at the Chinese border in March.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the government was “pursuing every possible approach” to free the women.
Their trial was held amid growing tensions over North Korea’s nuclear programme, but Mrs Clinton stressed that the two issues were “entirely separate”.
The families of Ms Ling and Ms Lee said they were worried about the “mental state and wellbeing” of the two women.
In a joint statement, the families said: “We ask the government of North Korea to show compassion and grant Laura and Euna clemency and allow them to return home to their families.
“We remain hopeful that the governments of the United States and North Korea can come to an agreement that will result in the release of the girls.”
The statement said Ms Ling suffered from an ulcer and that Ms Lee had a four-year-old daughter who was “displaying signs of anguish”.
“We believe that the three months they have already spent under arrest with little communication with their families is long enough,” the statement said.
After a short trial, the North’s official news agency KCNA said on Monday that the women had committed a “grave crime” and would be sentenced to 12 years of “reform through labour”.
KCNA gave no further details.
The pair were arrested by North Korean guards on 17 March while working on the China-North Korea border on a story about refugees for California-based internet broadcaster Current TV.
Some reports have suggested that the women did not stray over the border but were seized by North Korean border guards who crossed into Chinese territory.
The pair have been held in detention since their arrest.
Tensions have increased in the region since North Korea conducted a nuclear test in May and then test-fired several missiles.
Another long-range missile test is believed to be planned for later this month.
The UN Security Council is discussing tightening sanctions against Pyongyang, and Mrs Clinton said on Sunday that the US was considering reinstating North Korea in its list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Analysts believe the North may try to use the women as a bargaining chip in negotiations over their nuclear programme.
THE TIMES ONLINE
Richard Lloyd Parry in Seoul