North Korea's U.N. envoy threatened "all-out countermeasures" should the U.N. Security Council impose sanctions over its test-launch of several missiles. Meanwhile China and Russia urged diplomacy to halt the isolated regime's nuclear and rocket development programs.
North Korea confirmed Thursday that it test-launched missiles earlier this week and vowed to continue doing so to strengthen the country's self-defense.
The comments from the Foreign Ministry were the government's first since North Korea test-fired at least seven missiles on Wednesday, including a long-range Taepodong-2. All of them apparently fell harmlessly into the Sea of Japan.
The statement was carried on the official Korean Central News Agency monitored in Seoul.
The statement also said that North Korea has a "legal right" to missile launches, which it called part of "regular military drills to strengthen its self-defense." It also said the launches are unrelated to six-party talks aimed at persuading the country to abandon its nuclear program.
North Korea has three or four more missiles on launch pads, South Korean media reported, while Japan said there was no sign the communist state was planning another immediate launch of a long-range rocket.
Japan, backed by the U.S. and Britain, circulated a resolution Wednesday that would ban any country from transferring funds, material and technology that could be used in North Korea's missile and weapons of mass destruction programs.
"We will be forced to take all-out countermeasures if sanctions are exercised," Han Song Ryol, deputy chief of North Korea's U.N. mission, said Wednesday, according to Japanese broadcaster TBS.
Han said the missile launches were part of a regular military drill, TBS reported.
China, the North's closest ally, and Russia, which has been trying to re-establish Soviet-era ties with Pyongyang, countered that they favor a weaker council statement without any threat of sanctions. Both countries hold veto power in the council, making sanctions unlikely.
China and Russia are clearly concerned that a U.N. demand for such measures would only make the current situation worse and delay a return to six-party talks. China and Russia are part of the talks along with North and South Korea, the United States and Japan.
In a possible sign that Moscow's and Beijing's position may carry the day, President Bush addressed the issue in a subdued manner without the harsh warnings that he had issued as recently as last week when he said that a missile launch would be unacceptable.