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N.Korea reportedly rules out more tests

BEIJING, (AFP) - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice headed to Russia on Saturday for more talks on North Korea after the secretive communist state reportedly said it would not conduct another nuclear test.

With Rice on a whistle-stop tour to rally regional support for the new UN sanctions on Pyongyang, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il told a delegation from his main ally China that no more atom bomb tests were on the way.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted diplomatic sources saying that Kim had told Chinese envoy Tang Jiaxuan, who visited Beijing on Thursday, of the decision.

Kim told Tang that North Korea has "no plan for an additional nuclear test," the source said. A South Korean newspaper meanwhile said that Kim had apologised for the first one.

The international community has been in an uproar since North Korea announced it tested an atomic weapon for the first time on October 9, despite years of diplomatic efforts aimed at getting Pyongyang to give up its nuclear programme.

The UN Security Council imposed sanctions on the regime, and Rice has so far visited Japan, South Korea and China for talks on how to implement the sanctions, which include international inspections of North Korean cargo.

The United States says it wants to prevent the North, part of US President George W. Bush's "axis of evil," from transferring weapons of mass destruction and nuclear know-how to groups and governments hostile to the United States.

A US defence official said Friday that a merchant ship from North Korea carrying "cargo of a contraband-type nature" in defiance of the sanctions was currently at sea, but declined to give further details.

"We believe it is carrying stuff that it shouldn't be carrying," he said. Rice has been urging nations to vigorously enforce the sanctions and take a hard line on Pyongyang.

But Tang, who met Rice in the Chinese capital on Friday, urged Washington to take a more "flexible" attitude to the North Korean crisis.

"This is in the interests of all sides," China's state Xinhua news agency quoted him saying.

China, the main provider of food and aid to impoverished North Korea, got the Security Council to scale down the original US proposals for the sanctions and has resisted taking a hard line on the cargo inspections.

But Rice, who also met Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing, said China was committed to strong enforcement of the sanctions, including preventing illicit materials from crossing the long border with North Korea.

"The Chinese made the point to us that they are scrupulous about that land border and intend to be scrupulous about that land border," Rice told reporters accompanying her on the trip.

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