China is blocking the release of a report by a U.N. expert panel on the disclosure of a new and highly sophisticated uranium enrichment plant in North Korea, Security Council diplomats said Wednesday.
The council discussed the report behind closed doors during a briefing by Portugal's U.N. Ambassador Jose Filipe Moraes Cabral, who heads the council committee monitoring U.N. sanctions against the North aimed at reining in its nuclear program.
Cabral told a press briefing late Wednesday that the council "was only starting on this process, and as is normal in issues that have delicate political implications, you need some time ... (to) look at the report as a whole and see how we are going to deal with it, and the recommendations in it."
Diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private said many council members pushed for publication of the report, arguing that all 192 U.N. member states should have access to its findings that Pyongyang is ignoring U.N. sanctions and continuing its nuclear enrichment program, and its recommendations on how to improve compliance with sanctions.
"The United States supports the report and believes that it should be made public as soon as possible," U.S. deputy spokeswoman Carolyn Vadino said.
American scientist Siegfried Hecker said in November that during a trip to the North's main Yongbyon atomic complex he was taken to a small, industrial-scale and previously unknown uranium enrichment facility.
Hecker, a former director of the U.S. Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory who is regularly given rare glimpses of the North's secretive nuclear program, briefed the Security Council sanctions committee in November.
At Wednesday's council briefing, diplomats said China, North Korea's closest ally, argued that Hecker had no official standing, that there was no independent confirmation of the uranium enrichment plant, and that the report's findings and recommendations went beyond the facts.
Asked whether Hecker's findings were being challenged, Portugal's Cabral refused to comment on any council member but said "there are always opinions about the validity of certain aspects (of reports) from different quarters."
In response to a question on whether one country could block the release of a report, he said the Security Council's practice is to operate on the basis of consensus.
The United States has been working with China, Japan, Russia and South Korea since 2003 to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear programs through a framework known as the six-party talks. Those talks ended in December 2008 and have not resumed.
The U.N. Security Council has imposed two rounds of sanctions against North Korea following its first and second nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.