NEW YORK - A U.S. banker has hailed progress in talks on debt restructuring with Ecuador and said the country could soon resume payments.

"We're hopeful that [interest payments will resume] at the beginning of the year - I hope January," a U.S. banker said after taking part in meetings with Ecuadorean debt negotiators in New York last week.

The banker said Ecuador's 1993 budget was expected to call for resumed debt servicing to the banks. The country stopped meeting its payment obligations earlier this year.

|A Very Positive Note'

The banker said the New York meetings, the first official contact between Ecuador and the banks in a year, put the relationship back "on a very positive note," although the contacts were only introductory.

Ecuador owes some $6.5 billion to commercial banks. President Sixto Duran has pledged to resume payments once the country replenishes its international reserves, which were almost eliminated before he took office in August.

The banker described Mr. Duran's debt negotiators as a "really excellent team," but he made it clear they were unlikely to get special treatment from the banks if they fail to pay up.

"There's no ultimatum but we made clear that [resumption of payments] is key. Without payments coming, it's hard to keep people motivated" for restructuring the debt, he said.

Acknowledging Debt

On Monday, Ecuador said it would commit to respecting old financing accords with creditor banks under a so-called tolling agreement, which prevents it from using legal loopholes to avoid payment.

Under the previous administration, bankers say the country was known for a spotty repayment record.

Much of the country's debt trades on the secondary market in New York at 26.75 cents on the dollar bid, 27.5 cents offered.

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