By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council will hold closed-door consultations on Thursday to discuss a possible condemnation of North Korea's latest ballistic missile launches, U.N. diplomats said.
The request for a special session on North Korea came from the United States, council diplomats told Reuters on condition of anonymity on Wednesday. The meeting of the 15-nation council was scheduled for 4:30 p.m. EDT (2030 GMT) on Thursday.
The U.N. mission of Luxembourg, which holds the presidency of the Security Council this month, announced on its Twitter feed that U.N. political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman would brief council members on developments on the Korean peninsula during the session.
In what appeared to be a show of defiance, North Korea fired two medium-range Rodong ballistic missiles into the sea at 2:35 a.m. Japan and Korea time, both Tokyo and Seoul said.
North Korea's first firing in four years of mid-range Rodong missiles that can hit Japan followed a series of short-range rocket launches over the past two months.
In Seoul, South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok called the launches "a clear violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and a grave provocation against South Korea and the international community". South Korea is a temporary member of the Security Council.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's press office issued a statement condemning the latest missile launch.
"Such launches are contrary to building trust in the region. The Secretary-General urges the DPRK (North Korea) to cease its ballistic missile activities and focus, together with other countries concerned, on the dialogue and diplomacy necessary to maintain regional peace and security," the statement said.
China, North Korea's traditional ally and most significant trading partner, responded in more muted tones on Thursday.
"In the present situation, all sides ought to dedicate themselves to maintaining peace and stability on the Korean peninsula," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular briefing.
Council diplomats said Washington was expected to propose a Security Council statement that would condemn the missile firings. It was not clear whether China, Pyongyang's protector on the council, would support such a condemnation, though it has been willing to back rebukes of Pyongyang in the past.
Deputy U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Tuesday, "We are closely coordinating with our allies and partners, including in the U.N. Security Council, to take the appropriate measures in response to this latest provocation and to address the threat to global security posed by the DPRK's nuclear and ballistic missile programs."
There is also a possibility, the diplomats said, of the Security Council's North Korea sanctions committee eventually expanding the current U.N. blacklist to include additional North Korean entities involved in Pyongyang's missile program.
Expansion of the blacklist would take more time and was not expected to be decided on Thursday, the diplomats said.
"The council should condemn North Korea and begin looking at additional measures against the North Koreans," a Western diplomat said.
According to diplomats, ballistic missile launches are banned under U.N. Security Council resolutions adopted in response to North Korea's 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests and subsequent rocket firings. The council expanded its existing sanctions after Pyongyang's February 2013 atomic test.
The council imposed a series of U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang that target the country's missile and nuclear programs and attempt to punish North Korea's reclusive leadership through a ban on luxury goods.
(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Toni Reinhold, Bernard Orr and Clarence Fernandez)