The six-party talks aimed at resolving the North Korean nuclear issue ended in December without any substantial progress, but there is renewed hope that the next round — now scheduled for Feb. 8 — will bring more success.

In a round of talks in 2005, progress seemed to have been made: North Korea agreed in principle to stop its plutonium production in exchange for better relations with, and a pledge of nonaggression from, the United States. However, soon after, the U.S. imposed sanctions, freezing about $24 million of North Korean funds in Banco Delta Asia (BDA), a Macau bank.

The given reasons for the sanctions were unrelated to the nuclear issue: The U.S. accused the North of laundering drug money and counterfeit bills, a charge the North flatly denies. North Korea then boycotted the talks for over a year.

North Korea surprised the world in 2006 by detonating its first atomic device, threatening another blast soon after. The world community — including the United Nations and Korea’s closest ally, China — condemned the tests. After discussions with a Chinese delegation sent to Pyongyang, the North announced that it would come back to the table.

The December talks, which include the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Japan, the United States, the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation, were considered an important step forward, though they were unsuccessful.

The U.S. and North Korea were scheduled to meet Jan. 30 to discuss the BDA issue. Yomiuri, a Japanese newspaper, quoted an unnamed U.S. congressional source saying that the United States may release part of the funds.

In a related development, the North condemned what it called a smear campaign by the U.S., where commentators have speculated that the North was trading nuclear weapons technology with Iran.

Denying this, the Korean Mission to the United Nations issued a press release saying it will “sincerely honor its duty [to] the international community” in preventing nuclear proliferation.

dmargolis @