The US is attempting to bridge the gap between the sanctions being pushed by Japan (which unilaterally imposed a ban on N. korean shipping from docking at Japanese ports, among other things) and the "unspecified consequences" being proposed by the Chinese, who have the most leverage over the North. China is sending an envoy to the US to discuss the matter.
"Chinese officials have refused to say publicly what consequences they believe North Korea should face for its claimed nuclear test, although its U.N. ambassador, Wang Guangya, agreed earlier this week that the Security Council must impose "punitive actions."
The latest US proposals would drop the embargo conditions being pressed by the Japanese, but freeze some N. Korean assets and ban travel for some of its citizens.
However, the N. Koreans continue to threaten both the US and Japan if sanctions are imposed. The US is hoping to get the Chinese and the Russians on board with its proposals while maintaining the intense concern being expressed by the Japanese.
"The North will consider increased U.S. pressure "a declaration of war," RI Kong Son, vice spokesman for North Korea's Foreign Ministry, said in an interview with AP Television News in Pyongyang. He said North Korea would take unspecified "physical countermeasures. Song Il Ho, a North Korean envoy to Japan, gave a similar warning to Tokyo. "We will take strong countermeasures," he told Kyoto News Agency."
China appears to be pushing the North to admit going nuclear is a mistake and hopefully disarming, while at the same time attempting to prevent the international community from "punishing" the North. Hard to determine what the ultimate Chinese goals are, but they are legendarily obtuse in diplomatic circles. The North is demanding one-on-one talks with the US, which are wisely being refused in favor of a multi-lateral approach with the North's neighbors. It is still unclear, however, that the explosion/seismic event was, in fact, nuclear as both South Korea and Japan can find no signs of additional radioactivity in the atmosphere.