International talks to end North Korea's nuclear program could resume as early as next week if the issue of its funds frozen in a blacklisted Macau bank is resolved, a news report said yesterday, quoting a Japanese minister.
"The US is confident that the issue [of North Korean frozen funds] will be resolved soon," Kyodo News agency quoted Foreign Minister Taro Aso as telling reporters.
Aso said that he "wouldn't be surprised" if talks resume next week, the report said.
Aso made the remarks late on Friday in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, where he was attending a conference on Iraq, Kyodo said.
Foreign Ministry officials were not available for comment yesterday.
The funds were frozen in late 2005 after the US accused the small family owned Banco Delta Asia of being a willing pawn in North Korean money-laundering and counterfeiting schemes.
The North has denied the charges, and boycotted six-party talks for more than a year.
In an effort to break the deadlock on disarmament, the US last month helped unfreeze US$25 million in North Korean money held in the Macau bank.
But the North has not withdrawn the funds for unknown reasons.
The North missed an April 14 deadline to shutter its main nuclear reactor, which was specified as the first implementation phase of a landmark disarmament deal reached in February.
The US said on Friday that North Korea could shut down and disable its key nuclear plant by the end of this year despite a hitch in implementation of a pact to end its atomic weapons program.
North Korea has refused to take steps to shut down the Yongbyon reactor by April 14 as pledged in a February agreement because it has yet to receive US$25 million in funds frozen as a result of US action in an Asian bank.
The timetable for the North to disarm was adopted at six-party talks involving the US, China, Russia, the two Koreas and Japan.
The US, China, Russia and South Korea agreed to provide 50,000 tonnes of fuel oil or the economic or humanitarian equivalent once the initial steps were taken by North Korea.
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