SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea lashed out at the United States and reportedly launched three more short-range missiles even as UN Security Council members debated possible new sanctions for the country's latest nuclear test.
North Korea test-fired three short-range missiles Tuesday, including one at night, from the east coast city Hamhung, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said. South Korea's spy chief said two other missiles were launched Monday and North Korea also warned ships to stay away from waters off its west coast through Wednesday, suggesting more test flights.
Meanwhile, a South Korean newspaper report said U.S. spy satellites detected signs North Korea restarted its nuclear plant.
South Korea's mass-circulation Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported Wednesday that U.S. spy satellites detected steam coming from a reprocessing facility at North Korea's main Yongbyon nuclear plant. The paper cited an unnamed South Korean government source.
North Korea previously said it was restarting the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel rods to harvest weapons-grade plutonium at the Yongbyon plant in protest against international criticism of its April 5 rocket launch. But it was unclear if the North had actually begun the reprocessing work.
The latest missile launches came as leaders around the world condemned North Korea for Monday's underground nuclear test. Retaliatory options were limited, however, and no one was talking publicly about military action.
Russian defence officials said the blast was roughly as strong as the bombs dropped on the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the Second World War and was stronger than North Korea's first test in 2006.
In New York City, UN diplomats said key countries were discussing a Security Council resolution that could include new sanctions against North Korea.
Ambassadors from the five permanent veto-wielding council members - the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France - as well as Japan and South Korea were expected to meet later, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting is private.
The Security Council met in emergency session Monday and condemned the nuclear test. Council members said they would follow up with a new legally binding resolution.
France's deputy UN ambassador Jean-Pierre Lacroix said his government wants a resolution to "include new sanctions...because this behaviour must have a cost and a price to pay."
It was too early to say what those sanctions might be and whether China and Russia, both close allies of North Korea, will go along.
In an unusual step, China strongly reproached its close ally.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu reiterated Beijing "resolutely opposed" the nuclear test and urged Pyongyang to return to negotiations under which it had agreed to dismantle its atomic program.
North Korea is "trying to test whether they can intimidate the international community" with its nuclear and missile activity, said Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
"But we are united, North Korea is isolated and pressure on North Korea will increase," Rice said.
Diplomats acknowledged, however, that there are limits to the international response and past sanctions have had only spotty results.
"No one was talking about taking military action against North Korea," John Sawers, the British ambassador to the United Nations, told the BBC.
"I agree that the North Koreans are recalcitrant and very difficult to hold to any agreement that they sign up to. But there is a limited range of options here."
North Korea blamed the escalating tensions in the region on Washington, saying the United States is building up its forces, and defended its nuclear test as a matter of self-preservation.
An editorial in the North's main newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, called the United States "warmongers" and said Washington's recent announcement about sending fighter planes to Japan "lay bare the sinister and dangerous scenario of the U.S. to put the Asia-Pacific region under its military control."
At the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, An Myong Han, a diplomat from the North Korean mission, said his country "could not but take additional self-defence measures including nuclear tests and the test launch of long-range missiles in order to safeguard our national interest."
North Korea fired at least five missiles this week. Yonhap, quoting an anonymous government official, said two missiles launched Tuesday - one ground-to-air, the other ground-to-ship - had a range of about 128 kilometres. Yonhap later quoted another government official saying an additional ground-to-ship missile was fired late Tuesday night.
Officials would not immediately comment on the reports.