UNITED NATIONS (AP) - The U.N. Security Council condemned North Korea's successful rocket launch on Wednesday and said it will urgently consider "an appropriate response."
Whether that response includes new sanctions against the North, which the United States and its European allies are seeking, depends first and foremost on China, the North's closest ally which has not made its position clear.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei cautioned Wednesday in Beijing that the council's response should be "prudent and moderate and conducive to maintaining stability and avoiding escalation of the situation."
The Security Council said in a brief statement after closed consultations that the launch violated council resolutions adopted after North Korea's nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 and a ban on "any launch using ballistic missile technology."
The U.N.'s most powerful body recalled that after the North's failed launch in April it demanded that Pyongyang halt any further launches using ballistic missile technology and expressed its determination to take action in the event of another launch.
"Members of the Security Council will continue consultation on an appropriate response ... given the urgency of the matter," the council statement said.
The successful rocket launch is widely seen as a test that takes North Korea one step closer to being capable of sending a nuclear-tipped warhead as far as California. North Korea officials say the rocket is meant to send a satellite into orbit to study crops and weather patterns, and Pyongyang maintains its right to develop a civilian space program.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said that no matter how the North Koreans choose to describe the launch it violates two council resolutions and shows that the country "is determined to pursue its ballistic missile program without regard for its international obligations."
"The initial statement out of the council is one of the swiftest and strongest - if not the swiftest and strongest - that this council has issued," she said. "Members of the council must now work in a concerted fashion to send a clear message that its violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions have consequences."
She told reporters that the United States will be working with the council, South Korea, Japan and other countries in the international community "to pursue appropriate action."
The closed Security Council consultations were also attended by the five nations that will join the council on Jan. 1, including South Korea.
South Korea's U.N. Ambassador Kim Sook told reporters afterward that the launch was "a blatant violation" of council resolutions and "constitutes a very dangerous challenge to the security of the Republic of Korea and the security situation in Korean peninsula and northeast Asia."
He said consultations will continue, and "I believe the Security Council will take appropriate action in swift and robust manner."
Just before the meeting, the United States and its European allies called for the Security Council to deliver a strong reaction to Wednesday's launch.
The Security Council has imposed two rounds of sanctions against the North, following each of its nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.