Moscow studying possibility of Russian bank accepting North Korean funds

The Russian government expressed support Wednesday for a plan to resolve a dispute that has held up North Korea's nuclear disarmament by funneling North Korean funds through a Russian bank, and said it was studying legal aspects of the issue.

Russia "does not oppose the possible ... participation of Russian banks in organizing the transfer to (North Korea) of funds in its accounts in Banco Delta Asia," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in a statement.

North Korea has refused to move forward on a February pledge to start dismantling its nuclear program until it receives US$25 million (euro18.5 million) that had been frozen in Banco Delta Asia, a Macau bank blacklisted by the United States. Washington accused the bank of complicity in money laundering by the North Korean regime, but gave its blessing for the funds to be freed to win progress on the nuclear issue.

The money's release has been held up for months because of technical hurdles in transferring it to another institution. North Korea has refused to withdraw the money in cash but instead seeks a transfer to another bank to prove the funds are now clean.

Russian nuclear negotiator Alexander Losyukov said earlier that Moscow was prepared to consider the possibility that a Russian bank accept the North Korean funds, and the U.S. Treasury Department had said Russia was offering its help to resolve the issue.

Kamynin said Russia was looking into legal aspects of the issue, including how to ensure that a participating Russian bank would not be affected by U.S. sanctions.

He said Moscow's support was motivated by its "strong interest in fostering a swift resolution of the problem at hand."