By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States has circulated a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council that would condemn North Korea for its December rocket launch and calls for tightening existing U.N. sanctions, diplomats said on Monday.
The draft was the result of a deal between the United States and China, the envoys said on condition of anonymity. Even though the draft does not call for any new sanctions against Pyongyang, diplomats said China's support for the resolution represented a significant diplomatic blow to Pyongyang.
"We hope to have a vote midweek," one diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
China said earlier on Monday that the Security Council needed to pass a cautious resolution on North Korea, adding that this was the best way to ensure regional tensions did not escalate further.
Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin voiced Moscow's backing for the draft text last week.
"I expect we will support it," Russia's state-run RIA Novosti news agency quoted Churkin as saying. "I don't expect that the U.N. Security Council members will have any serious problems (with the resolution)."
"Our position is that the North Korean rocket launch is a violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution, so the council should react," Churkin said.
The draft, which was sent to the 15 council members, calls for sanctioning a number of additional North Korean entities, including Pyongyang's space agency, diplomats said on condition of anonymity.
North and South Korea are still technically at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty.
The United States had wanted to punish North Korea for the rocket launch 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 its North Korea sanctions committee to expand the existing U.N. blacklists, diplomats said.
COUNCIL CONDEMNS THE MOVE
The U.S.-Chinese deal, 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. This makes the rebuke more forceful.
After North Korea's April 2012 rocket launch, the council passed a "presidential statement" that condemned the move and urged the Security Council sanctions committee to tighten the existing U.N. sanctions regime.
The committee then blacklisted additional North Korean firms and broadened a list of items Pyongyang was banned from importing.
China is the North's only major diplomatic ally, although it agreed to U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang after North Korea's 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.
North Korea is already banned under Security Council resolutions from developing nuclear and missile technology. But it 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.
(Reporting By Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Peter Cooney and Christopher Wilson)