Koreas Prepare for Train Link Amid Hopeful Signs on Nuclear Issue

On the eve of a historic advance in contacts between North and South Korea, there are indications that a major obstacle to ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programs may be resolved. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

For more than a year, North Korea has refused to take action to end its nuclear weapons programs because it could not transfer $25 million of its money out of a Macau bank.

On Wednesday here in Seoul, South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon said the issue is not likely to hold up the process of ending the North's nuclear programs for much longer.

He says South Korean authorities regret that the issue has held up the nuclear diplomacy for so long - but that the related countries are progressing toward a solution. The only remaining question, he says, is how quickly that will come.

The Macau accounts were frozen almost two years ago after U.S. investigators said the money was linked to illegal North Korean activities.

After it received assurances the money would be released, North Korea promised in February to shut down its main nuclear facility within 30 days, in exchange for fuel oil assistance. Pyongyang is two months overdue on fulfilling that promise, saying it will not comply until its money is transferred out of Macau.

The transfer has been delayed as officials try to find an international bank willing to handle the transaction.

Minister Song's comments on the issue came the day before the first train crossing over the heavily armed border between the two Koreas in more than 50 years.

Two trains are scheduled to cross the Demilitarized Zone Thursday in a highly symbolic test of rail links. Each train is expected to carry 100 South Koreans and 50 North Koreans. The rail lines were severed after North Korea's 1950 invasion of the South. The two countries remain technically at war following a 1953 armistice.

The train links, and a host of other inter-Korean projects such as reunions of families divided by the border, are a legacy of the only inter-Korean summit, in June 2000. On Wednesday, a group of Korean-Americans crossed into the North for the first family reunions involving Koreans living in the United States.

Some 90,000 Koreans have been separated from relatives since