"I think they want assurances that the Banco Delta Asia issues are resolved and we can give them those assurances," he told reporters.

Stand-off

For more than a year, Pyongyang boycotted six-party talks for nuclear disarmament after Macau's regulators froze its accounts in the Banco Delta Asia.

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Since September 2005, the US treasury department has been investigating the bank on charges that it had been accepting proceeds from the North's counterfeiting, drug-smuggling and money-laundering activities for years.

Banco Delta Asia said that it would challenge the US ban and denied any knowledge of money laundering by North Korea.

Its group chairman, Stanley Au, said the North Korean accounts were closed after the original black-listing in 2005: "We are not prepared to resume activity with them (North Korea) for the future," he told a news conference.

He said they would appeal against the decision, although he says it is now up to Macau's government to decide what to do with the North Korean money.

The US ban may allow the Macau authorities to consider releasing millions of dollars in frozen accounts, US officials said.

No closure

Last month, Pyongyang agreed to take the first step towards dismantling its weapons programme by shutting down the main reactor and re-admitting UN nuclear inspectors.

In return, it has been promised economic aid and political concessions.

But South Korea says the North has shown no signs of closing its nuclear complex, the source of its weapons-grade plutonium, since the pact was sealed in Beijing among six nations.

Song Min-soon, South Korea's foreign minister, said on Thursday: "There is no indication of a change in the operational condition of Yongbyon."

Some US officials earlier this week said they saw signs that North Korea was moving towards closing its nuclear complex but others thought it was still too early to tell.

Source: Agencies