By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States has dropped a push for the United Nations Security Council to hold its fifth annual meeting on human rights abuses in North Korea this month as it does not have enough support, diplomats said on Friday.
At least nine countries on the 15-member body need to back a request for the meeting, which Pyongyang ally China has unsuccessfully tried to block for the past four years. But diplomats said only eight members supported calling the meeting this time around.
"If we are unable to hold this important discussion this month, we hope to revisit holding this meeting in the new year," said a U.S. official. "The U.S. remains deeply concerned with the human rights situation in North Korea."
In a letter to the Security Council last week, North Korea accused the United States of trying to provoke and "stoke confrontation" by leading the request for the council meeting despite efforts by its leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump to work towards Pyongyang's denuclearisation.
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.
The United States could try again in January when five new members rotate onto the Security Council. Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Washington would likely have a better chance then of securing the minimum nine signatures needed to defeat any attempt to block the meeting.
Since 2014, China has annually requested - and lost - a procedural vote to stop the discussion, which has always been held in December.
"We continue to believe that discussions on human rights – and particularly concerning human rights abuses in North Korea – are a crucial part of the maintenance of international peace and security and worthy of the U.N. Security Council's attention," the U.S. official said.
Some diplomats suggested the meeting could be postponed until after Trump and Kim have met again. Trump, who initially met the North Korean leader in Singapore in June, has said they are likely to meet a second time in January or February, with three sites for a summit under consideration.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is due to step down in the coming weeks, so the job of trying to organise the Security Council meeting on North Korea could fall to her successor. Trump announced on Friday that he would nominate State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert to replace Haley.
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.
Then in 2016, the United States angered North Korea by blacklisting Kim for human rights abuses.
"To our deep surprise and regret, the Security Council is about to swim against the current trend by way of seeking to ... stoke confrontation, instead of encouraging and promoting the ongoing positive developments," North Korea's U.N. mission wrote to the council last week.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Sandra Maler)