By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States has not yet decided whether to hold a United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss human rights abuses in North Korea on Tuesday, said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Craft after even the prospect of such a meeting angered Pyongyang.
At least eight members of the 15-member council support a request for a meeting and the final decision rests with the United States, diplomats said. A minimum nine countries need to support the move in order to defeat any bid to block it. Between 2014 and 2017, China failed to stop the annual discussion.
Such a meeting would come at a time of increasing tensions between Washington and Pyongyang after North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un gave U.S. President Donald Trump until the end of the year to show more flexibility in talks that the U.S. hopes will lead North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile programs.
Kim's deadline has raised concerns among some diplomats that North Korea could next year resume nuclear and long-range missile testing that has been suspended since 2017. Trump has held up the suspension as a key achievement of his North Korea engagement.
"Human rights to me are important, I don't care where it is," Craft said in a news conference on Friday to mark the U.S. presidency of the Security Council for December. "We have not made a decision on whether or not there's a Dec. 10 meeting."
Last year, the United States dropped a push for the council to hold a meeting as it did not have enough support, diplomats said. They could have tried again in January when five new members rotated onto the council, but they did not.
On Wednesday, North Korea's U.N. ambassador Kim Song warned the council in a letter that any discussion of the country's human rights situation would be a "serious provocation" and Pyongyang would "respond strongly."
Kim Song wrote such a meeting would be an "act of conniving at and siding with the U.S.' hostile policy, which will lead to undermining rather than helping reduction of tensions on the Korean Peninsula and resolution of the nuclear issue."
"I have read the letter. We care about human rights," Craft told reporters. "None of us can stand by and allow ... human rights to be abused."
North Korea has repeatedly rejected accusations of human rights abuses and blames sanctions for a dire humanitarian situation. Pyongyang has been under U.N. sanctions since 2006 over its ballistic missiles and nuclear programs.
A landmark 2014 U.N. report on North Korean human rights concluded that North Korean security chiefs - and possibly leader Kim himself - should face justice for overseeing a state-controlled system of Nazi-style atrocities. The United States blacklisted Kim in 2016 for human rights abuses.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Paul Simao)