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By Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 12 (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council met on North Korea's rocket launch on Wednesday, a move Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned as a "provocative act" in breach of resolutions banning Pyongyang from developing ballistic missiles.
Several council diplomats said they hoped the 15-nation body could swiftly agree a similar condemnation and later consider a binding resolution, possibly expanding already existing U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang.
"We support a strong reaction by the council, it's a clear violation," French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters before going into the council meeting. "But we have to see what our friends want."
"We do consider it logical to sooner or later have a resolution," he added.
British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant echoed that sentiment: "In our view (the council) should react, it should react quickly, and it should react strongly to this provocation."
A senior Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity that the United States, Europe, Japan and South Korea were among those who would like to see U.N. sanctions expanded.
That could include adding more entities to the U.N. blacklist, banning travel and freezing assets of individual North Korean officials and tightening the cargo inspection regime.
Whether or not the council can agree a resolution - with or without expanding the sanctions - will depend largely on China and its diplomatic ally on the Security Council, Russia. Both nations have veto powers and tend to support each other and vote the same way on issues important to either of them.
"Exactly what the Chinese will be prepared to accept in form and substance is not yet clear," the diplomat said. He hoped they could have a resolution agreed by the end of next week.
Diplomats said China's expression of regret about the launch combined with a call for restraint left few clues as to what it would accept. Russia expressed "deep regret," which Western diplomats said they hoped was a signal that it would accept a strong response by the council.
North Korea successfully launched a rocket on Wednesday, boosting the credentials of its new leader and stepping up the threat the isolated and impoverished state poses to opponents.
The rocket, which North Korea says put a weather satellite into orbit, has been labeled by the United States, South Korea and Japan as a test of technology that could one day deliver a nuclear warhead capable of hitting targets as far away as the continental United States.
It was Japan that first appealed to the Security Council to take up the issue of North Korea's missile launch.
Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, expressed concern that the launch could negatively impact prospects for peace and security in the region.
A statement issued by Ban's office said the launch was "a clear violation of Security Council resolution 1874, in which the Council demanded that the DPRK not conduct any launch using ballistic missile technology."
The statement said Ban had urged North Korea's leaders not to launch a missile but "instead to build confidence with its neighbors while taking steps to improve the lives of its people."
"The Secretary-General is concerned about the negative consequences that this provocative act may have on peace and stability in the region," the statement said, adding that Ban was in touch with "concerned" governments.
North Korea followed what it said was a similar successful launch in 2009 with a nuclear test that prompted the U.N. Security Council to stiffen sanctions that it originally imposed in 2006 after the North's first nuclear test.
North Korea is banned from developing nuclear and missile-related technology under U.N. resolutions, although Kim Jong-un, the youthful head of state who took power a year ago, is believed to have continued the state's "military first" programs put in place by his late father, Kim Jong-il.