By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States and China have struck a tentative deal on a draft U.N. Security Council resolution condemning North Korea for its December rocket launch, though Beijing has yet to give its final approval, U.N. diplomats said on Friday.
The resolution would not impose new sanctions, but would call for expanding existing U.N. sanctions measures against Pyongyang, the envoys said on condition of anonymity.
A draft was expected to reach the 15-nation council as early as later on Friday, with adoption possible next week, they said.
The deal, if China and the rest of the council accept it, represents a compromise.
The United States had wanted to punish North Korea with a U.N. Security Council resolution that imposed new sanctions against Pyongyang, but Beijing rejected that option.
Beijing had wanted the council to merely issue a statement calling for the council's North Korea sanctions committee to expand the existing U.N. blacklists, diplomats said.
The tentative deal reached, they said, was that Washington would forgo the idea of immediate new sanctions, while Beijing would accept the idea of a resolution instead of a statement, which makes the rebuke more forceful.
Assuming the North Korea sanctions committee agrees to expand existing measures, the resolution will ultimately lead to more stringent sanctions against Pyongyang.
"It might not be much but the Chinese move is significant," a council diplomat said. "The prospect of a (new) nuclear test might have been a game changer (for China)."
After North Korea's April 2012 rocket launch, the council passed a so-called "presidential statement" that condemned the move and urged the North Korea sanctions committee to tighten the existing U.N. sanctions regime.
The sanctions committee then blacklisted additional North Korean firms and broadened a list of items Pyongyang was banned from importing.
Washington was determined not to use the same formula as last year, which is why it insisted that the council adopt a resolution, not a presidential statement as China had wanted.
China is the North's only major diplomatic ally, though it agreed to U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang in the wake of North Korea's 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.
North Korea is already banned under Security Council resolutions from developing nuclear and missile technology but has been working steadily on its nuclear test site, possibly in preparation for a third nuclear test, satellite images show.
December's successful long-range rocket launch, the first to put a satellite in orbit, was a coup for North Korea's young leader Kim Jong-un.
It raised tensions in East Asia at the same time as Japan and South Korea elected new leaders. Washington wants them to mend relations after a dispute over an island claimed by both countries boiled over. (Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Vicki Allen)