* U.S.-drafted statement condemns North Korean launch
* Draft says rocket launch contravened resolution 1718
* China says draft is "cautious and proportionate"
* U.S., Britain say statement will be legally binding (Recasts, adds U.S., Japanese, British and Mexican envoys)
By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, April 11 (Reuters) - Six world powers agreed to a draft U.N. Security Council statement on Saturday that condemns North Korea’s rocket launch and calls for enforcement of U.N. sanctions imposed against Pyongyang.
The 15-nation council met briefly to receive copies of the U.S.-drafted statement, agreement on which was hammered out in a two-hour meeting between the ambassadors of the United States, Japan, China, Britain, France and Russia. [ID:nN11344843]
With the five permanent council members and Japan backing the statement, diplomats said its formal adoption by the full council at a further meeting called for Monday afternoon was virtually assured.
"The Security Council condemns the 5 April 2009 launch by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), which is in contravention of Security Council resolution 1718," the statement said.
The draft also calls for the U.N. Sanctions Committee to begin enforcing financial sanctions and an arms embargo laid down in an existing council resolution.
That resolution, number 1718, was passed after a nuclear test by Pyongyang in October 2006. It forbids North Korea from launching ballistic missiles or carrying out further nuclear tests. It also bans the import or export of arms and related goods by Pyongyang.
Saturday’s deal on a so-called presidential statement ended a week-long deadlock on a council response to the North Korean launch, which had pitched Japan and China against each other.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the draft statement is "very strong and sends a clear message to the DPRK that their violation of international law will not be treated with impunity and indeed will have consequences."
CHINA OPPOSED RESOLUTION
China’s envoy Zhang Yesui, who had opposed U.S. and Japanese calls for new sanctions against Pyongyang, was quoted by China’s Xinhua news agency as saying that the six powers had reached a consensus on a draft that was "cautious and proportionate," as Beijing had wanted from the beginning.
The United States, Japan and South Korea have repeatedly said that North Korea launched a long-range ballistic missile, not a satellite, in violation of resolution 1718.
Japan had been pushing for a council resolution that would declare Pyongyang in violation of resolution 1718. But China and Russia, which have vetoes on the council, opposed this. They were not convinced the rocket launch, which North Korea says put a satellite into orbit, was a violation.
China was also opposed to a council resolution, insisting instead that the council adopt a presidential statement, which is a formal statement of the council’s position by its president. It is generally seen as weaker than a resolution.
Rice said that the statement would be legally binding, a position that was supported by British Ambassador John Sawers.
Japanese Ambassador Yukio Takasu told reporters that "Japan’s strong preference was a resolution" but said Tokyo had decided to back the statement in the interest of unanimity.
"Equally important is unity and ... unity of the council should be lost if we insist until the end," he said. "That’s why we have accepted this very strong presidential statement."
SANCTIONS NOT ENFORCED
The sanctions committee on North Korea has not met for two years and has not designated a single North Korean company to be added to the U.N. blacklist of banned entities, diplomats say. As a result, the sanctions were not enforced, they say.
The draft calls for the committee to "undertake its tasks to this effect" and designate "entities and goods" to face sanctions. It adds that if the committee failed to do so by the end of the month, the council would draw up its own list.
Although the statement does not explicitly declare Pyongyang in violation of 1718, diplomats said the language in the draft that it contravened the resolution, a compromise that was acceptable to Beijing, has the same legal meaning.
The draft also calls for Pyongyang to return to stalled six-party talks aimed at ending its nuclear program and demands that it refrain from any further launches. The talks group North and South Korea, China, Russia, Japan and the United States. (Additional reporting by Patrick Worsnip; Editing by Xavier Briand)