Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly is heading to South Korea after speaking with officials in China about the next round of multi-party talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
Beijing was the second stop on Mr. Kelly's three-country tour, which started in Japan earlier this week.
The U.S. diplomat met with Chinese foreign ministry officials, laying out plans for what diplomats hope will be a new round of six-way talks on North Korea next month.
The aim of the talks is to settle a dispute that centers on U.S. demands for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program in a verifiable manner.
The first round of talks, including China, Japan, North and South Korea, the United States and Russia, were held in August and ended inconclusively.
China has been leading diplomatic efforts to restart the negotiations. Last month, Chinese officials traveled to Pyongyang and received assurances from North Korean leader Kim Jong Il that North Korea was ready to resume negotiations.
Hopes for a new round have risen since North Korea's official news agency indicated that Pyongyang had dropped its long-standing demand for a treaty in which the United States would agree not to attack it.
Neither Chinese officials nor U.S. diplomats revealed any details of the discussions that took place between Mr. Kelly and his Chinese counterparts.
Observers say whatever package the parties agree to offer North Korea at the negotiating table must address the impoverished country's needs.
Han Suk-hee, a politics professor at Seoul's Yon Sie University, said that preparations for the next round are delicate and complex, since North Korea is not likely to settle for security guarantees alone.
"A U.S. guarantee of the stability of their regime is not enough," said Prof. Han. "They have to get some more aid and they have [to] get some more money to gear up their economic reform and open-door policy."
Following talks Tuesday with Mr. Kelly in Tokyo, Japan's defense chief said the United States and Japan had agreed that a combination of dialogue and pressure is the best way to get North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program.