(AFP) - China has tightened the screw on North Korea in a rare direct message to reclusive leader Kim Jong-Il as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned his nation not to carry out a second atom bomb test.
A special envoy handed a personal message from Chinese President Hu Jintao to Kim Thursday in what a foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing called a "significant" visit to Pyongyang, reports Trend.
It came as Rice, in Seoul, warned of "grave consequences" if the Stalinist regime conducted a second weapons test after its shock first October 9 trial while also stressing that the door to negotiations remained open.
Tang Jiaxuan, leading a delegation of senior Chinese government officials, carried a message from Hu, foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said.
"This is a very significant visit against the backdrop of major changes in the situation on the Korean peninsula," Liu said.
It is thought to be Kim's first announced meeting with any foreigner since the test.
North Korea's state news agency KCNA, for its part, said Tang handed Kim a gift as they talked of bilateral ties "and a series of international issues of mutual concern."
"Kim Jong-Il expressed thanks for this and conversed with him in a friendly atmosphere," KCNA added.
Liu said two vice foreign ministers -- Wu Dawei, who is also China's senior negotiatior to stalled six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program, and Dai Bingguo -- were also part of the delegation.
Asked by reporters in Seoul, Rice said she had not heard what came out of the meeting in Pyongyang.
"I hope it has been successful in conveying to North Korea that there is really only one path," she said, referring to the dismantling of its weapons programmes.
A senior US official travelling with Rice earlier Thursday said the Chinese delegation would likely send a "very strong" warning against further tests.
Tang last week met with US President George W. Bush in Washington and also visited Moscow amid the hurried diplomacy that led to Saturday's unanimous UN Security Council resolution imposing sanctions.
China, North Korea's closest ally and by some way its largest aid donor and trade partner, is seen as critical to ensuring the measures have real bite.
The UN text calls on North Korea to return to negotiations over its nuclear programme and imposes a range of financial, trade and military restrictions.
Rice, who earlier held talks in Japan, arrived in Seoul as part of the US drive to tighten the pressure on Kim's isolated and impoverished regime.
She will travel Friday to China and then on to Russia.
During her talks here, Rice sought to ease Seoul's concern that sanctions, notably the inspection of cargo to and from the North, could lead to conflict with Pyongyang, which has branded the measures a declaration of war.
"The US has no desire to do anything to escalate tensions," she said at a joint press conference after talks with the South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon, who is also the incoming head of the United Nations.
"We want to leave open the path of negotiation," Rice said. "We don't want the situation to escalate."
But she and Ban warned of "grave consequences" if the North carried out a threat to stage a repeat test.
"We agreed that it would aggravate the current situation and that it should never take place," Ban said. "We agreed that in case it happens, there should be more grave consequences."
Rice and Ban later went into three-way talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso.
North Korea has boycotted six-nation disarmament talks -- gathering China, Japan, Russia, the United States and the two Koreas -- since last year after Washington took action to lock it out of the international banking system.
In Japan, earlier on the first leg of her tour, Rice insisted the United States favoured diplomacy, telling reporters that "we've also been clear that we are not going to invade or attack North Korea."
She has already reassured both Japan and South Korea of US support if they come under attack from North Korea.
Earlier, US President George W. Bush told ABC News in an interview that the North would be "held to account" if it sold nuclear material to Iran or Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network.
"One of the things that's important for these world leaders to hear is, you know, we will use means necessary to hold them to account," he said.