South Korea, China and Japan agree to cooperate on ending North Korea nuclear program

The foreign ministers of South Korea, China and Japan agreed to cooperate closely with their regional partners on ending North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

North Korea pledged in February to shut down its nuclear reactor by mid-April, but has refused to do so until it receives funds from a Macau bank that were frozen after the U.S. blacklisted the financial institution in 2005.

The US$25 million (EUR18.6 million) in Banco Delta Asia has since been freed, but North Korea has not withdrawn it, stalling progress on its nuclear disarmament.

North Korea has demanded that the funds be transferred electronically to another bank to prove the money is now clean. But the transfer has been delayed because other banks are apparently hesitant to touch the funds, which the U.S. says are connected to money-laundering and counterfeiting by North Korea.

South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon called for joint efforts to resolve the financial dispute during a series of talks with China's Yang Jiechi and Japan's Taro Aso on the southern resort island of Jeju.

The parties involved in the talks the U.S., the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia "should come up with a solution that overcomes legal and technical obstacles," Song told reporters.

Song said the current impasse doesn't serve any country's interest.

Aso expressed regret over the delay of the nuclear disarmament process due to the financial dispute.

"This situation is not acceptable for Japan," Aso said in a meeting with Song, according to Mitsuo Sakaba, press secretary for Japan's Foreign Ministry.

China's Yang also expressed frustration at the delay in the disarmament process. He called for cooperation to find "an appropriate solution of this matter," said Sakaba.

The three didn't propose any concrete proposals on how to break the nuclear deadlock.

The U.S. recently urged North Korea to start shutting down its nuclear reactor before receiving the funds a demand rejected by the North. However, North Korea has renewed its commitment to its disarmament pledge when the financial issue is resolved.

North Korea boycotted international nuclear talks for more than a year over the release of the funds, during which it conducted its first-ever nuclear test in October.

Separately, Aso asked for South Korea's help in resolving the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents decades ago, Sakaba said.

Song "responded positively" to Tokyo's request, saying there are also many abductees from South Korea. "This is a very serious issue. Both countries will closely cooperate for the resolution of this issue," Sakaba quoted Song as saying.