US asked Russia for help to resolve nuclear impasse over NKorean bank funds

Russia’s foreign minister said Tuesday that the U.S. asked his country to help resolve a banking dispute that has stalled North Korea's nuclear disarmament process.

"Our American colleagues have turned to us with a request to somehow think about a solution that can be found," Sergey Lavrov said on the sidelines of a meeting in Seoul of top diplomats from the Asian region. "We are studying this situation and I think together we will find a solution."

The North has refused to take steps to implement a February agreement to shut down its nuclear reactor until it receives some US$25 million (EUR18.5 million) in funds that had been frozen at a Macau bank for alleged complicity in counterfeiting and money laundering by Pyongyang.

The U.S. blacklisted Banco Delta Asia in 2005, but gave its blessing for the funds to be freed earlier this year to push through the nuclear issue. But Washington has maintained its restrictions on the bank doing business with the U.S., meaning other financial institutions have been reluctant to touch the money.

Russian banks have been reported before to be a possible destination for the funds. Russia is one of the six nations involved in the North Korean disarmament talks, the others being China, Japan, South Korea and the United States.

"The most important thing is that the Americans take measures that would allow - despite the sanctions they introduced - to implement this operation," Lavrov said Tuesday of the transfer. "As soon as this problem is solved, there will be no more impediments."