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From left, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon agreed to 'strongly reject' another North Korean nuclear test. ((Jung Yeon-je/Associated Press))

Washington is open to negotiations to defuse nuclear tensions on the Korean Peninsula, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Thursday as a top-level Chinese envoy delivered a message toNorth Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

"We want to leave open the path of negotiations. We don't want the crisis to escalate," Rice told a news conference with South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon Thursday in Seoul.

Washington believes it is important to implement United Nations sanctions imposed after North Korea's Oct. 9 nuclear test, but won't dictate how other countries act, said Rice.

"I did not come to South Korea nor do I go anyplace else to try to dictate to governments what they ought to do," she said.

Rice, who was in Japan on Wednesday as part of her tour of the region, said the U.S. is hopeful Chinese diplomatic efforts will persuade North Korea to return to the six-party talks, which have been stalled for the past year.

"I hope [China] has been successful in saying to North Korea that there is really only one path, which is denuclearization and dismantlement of its programs," said Rice.

"That is China's position and has been China's position ever since it's been playing a key role in the six-party talks."

Rice also held three-way talks with Ban and JapaneseForeign Minister Taro Aso on Thursday. The sides agreed to "strongly reject" another North Korean nuclear test.

Chinese envoy meets Kim Jong-Il

China's presidential envoy,Tang Jiaxuan, arrived in Pyongyang Thursday with a personal message for the North Korean leader. It was the highest-level Chinese visit since the North's nuclear test.

Speaking Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said he had no details of the message conveyed by Tang. He said Tang and Kim had "in-depth discussions" about the nuclear dispute, but gave no details of the conversation.

"This is a very significant visit, against the backdrop of major changes on the Korean Peninsula," said Liu. "We hope China's diplomatic efforts… will bear fruit."

Washington hopes the economic sanctions will pressure Pyongyang to return to negotiations over the nuclear issue, but acknowledges countries will take different approaches on how they enforce the sanctions.

Rice said initial reports that the UN sanctions would require a blockade or embargo on North Korean goods were exaggerated and that there is a model for action, citing an existing agreement among about 80 nations that is meant to counter the spread of nuclear materials or long-range missiles.

Washington would like South Korea to pull back from a number of cross-border business ventures it has with the North, including a joint tourism venture allowing tourists to cross the demilitarized zone into a nature preserve in the North and the development of a large industrial park.

No more tests, South warns

American and Chinese diplomatic efforts come amid intelligence reports warning of a second North Korean nuclear test. Satellite imagery from recent days suggests increased activity around a suspected nuclear test site in the North.

South Korean lawmaker and intelligence committee member Chung Hyung-keun told Seoul Broadcasting Station he believes the North is planning three or four additional nuclear tests.

South Korea on Thursday warned against such a decision.

"A second nuclear test by North Korea should never take place," Ban said after his talks with Rice.

Ban will replace UN Secretary General Kofi Annan when Annan's term in office expires at the end of the year.

With files from the Associated Press