BEIJING - China said Tuesday it hoped that a dispute over North Korean funds frozen in a Macau bank could be resolved and progress made on the dismantling of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.
The North missed a deadline Saturday under a February agreement to shut down and seal its nuclear reactor, which can produce fuel for nuclear weapons. It said Friday that it was waiting to confirm its US$25 million (euro18.6 million) in funds had been freed before it would make any move.
"The DPRK side still needs confirmation on the relevant questions" concerning the financial issue, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao at a regular briefing, using the official name of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Washington and Macau authorities said earlier last week the funds were free for withdrawal, but Liu said "there are still some specifics the relevant countries are concerned about that need to be further clarified and confirmed."
He did not give details.
The North's Foreign Ministry had said in a statement last week that a North Korean "financial institution concerned will confirm soon whether the measure is valid," but did not offer a timeline for the confirmation.
Liu said, however, that the views of the parties involved in the dispute - the US, North Korea and Macau - were "coming closer," and that Beijing hoped it would be quickly resolved.
Liu's remarks come days after China asked the United States for patience during the nuclear talks. US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the top US nuclear negotiator, said over the weekend Washington was prepared to wait a "few more days," but urged North Korea to fulfill its promise to shut its reactor and allow nuclear inspectors back into the country.
In exchange Pyongyang will get economic aid and political concessions.
North Korea tested a nuclear bomb in October.
South Korean news reports Tuesday said North Korea may be preparing to shut down its main nuclear reactor, renewing hope Pyongyang will comply with the disarmament agreement.
Yonhap news agency said the Yongbyon reactor remained in operation Tuesday, but there was a high possibility that movement of cars and people at the site recorded in satellite photos could be linked to a shutdown. Yonhap cited an unnamed intelligence official in the report.