In a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi in Tokyo, Undersecretary of State John Bolton said that a debate in the U.N. Security Council on North Korea does not mean sanctions will be imposed.
"The question of getting the matter into the Security Council is an entirely separate and very different question from whether or not sanctions at some point might be warranted," he said at a news conference.
North Korean officials have previously said sanctions would be tantamount to war.
The development follows an agreement reached Friday between North and South Korea to seek a peaceful end to the crisis over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. South Korea also said that it will send an envoy to the communist North to discuss the nuclear crisis.
"The South and North fully exchanged each other's positions regarding the nuclear issue and agreed to cooperate toward a peaceful resolution to this problem," the two countries said in a statement, released after the final session of ministerial talks in Seoul.
Lim Dong-won, aide to outgoing South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, will be accompanied by an envoy to President-elect Roh Moo-hyun on Monday on a rare direct flight to the North's capital and over the heavily fortified demilitarized zone that has divided the countries since the 1950-53 Korean War.
Roh, who will be sworn in Feb. 25, issued his own overture, saying he planned to propose a summit with North Korea's reclusive leader, Kim Jong-Il.
"I will propose to meet with Chairman Kim Jong-Il even if I lose face in the eyes of my people because I value dialogue and I think dialogue is the key," Roh told CNN in an interview Friday. "It is important to meet in person without any preconditions."
North and South Korea's commitment to seek a peaceful end to the crisis follows three days of marathon meetings between the two nations.
However, at the talks' conclusion, South Korean officials were clearly unhappy that they had failed to persuade the Pyongyang delegates to do more to ease international anxiety about their government's nuclear ambitions.
"We did not see a lot of progress during this round of talks," Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun said.
The North's Foreign Ministry official Oh Sung-chul told Friday's edition of the Korean Chosun Sinbo newspaper in Japan that Pyongyang "will review mediation offers from neighboring countries."
"It is a good thing if our neighboring countries look at the nature of this matter and play positive roles," the newspaper quoted him as saying. But he warned against taking sides.
The North Korea nuclear crisis was sparked in October when the United States said the North had admitted developing nuclear arms. Pyongyang later ejected U.N. nuclear inspectors, removed seals from a mothballed reactor and pulled out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.