UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - Japan's new prime minister Shinzo Abe called for "resolute" action against North Korea over its nuclear weapons programme as the major powers struggle to decide steps against the isolated regime, officials said on Wednesday.
Mr Abe made his call during telephone talks with United Nations (UN) leader Ban Ki Moon late on Tuesday, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
Japan is a key ally of the United States (US), which is battling to persuade China to agree tough UN Security Council action against Pyongyang for what the West sees as its test of banned ballistic missile technology on Dec 12.
North Korea featured strongly alongside the economy and Japan's reconstruction from a devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011 in Ban's first talks with the new Japanese leader.
The UN secretary general "expressed his concern for North Korea's use of nuclear weapons", said Mr Nesirky.
Mr Abe "agreed on the need for resolute Security Council action on the use of nuclear weapons by North Korea. The prime minister also expressed his willingness to work in the improvement of the human rights situation in North Korea",Mr Nesirky added.
The US is liaising closely with Japan and South Korea as it negotiates with China on how to act against the North, diplomats said.
The UN Security Council ordered sanctions against the isolated North after it staged nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009. It has repeatedly warned of new action if the government stages new proliferation outrages and Western nations say that those threats must now be backed up.
China, the North's main ally, however has resisted US-led efforts to order new sanctions.
The US and China are negotiating "at the very top level" over how to act against the North.
The US and its allies want a formal Security Council resolution with new sanctions against the North for the rocket launch.
China has agreed to a new council statement with possibly new designations under existing sanctions, UN diplomats said, speaking under condition of anonymity.
A statement has a lower formal standing than a formal resolution, and western diplomats say this is indicating international weakness.
China is saying "that the regime is new and that you have to give it time", said one senior diplomat.
The United States has not yet decided whether to propose a resolution which China could veto as a permanent member of the council, the diplomat said.
"They are still in the stage of working on the Chinese and hoping that there will be some movement," said the envoy.