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Sweden Optimistic Over Assange Questioning

FILE - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gestures during a news conference at the Ecuadorian embassy in central London, August 18, 2014.

Swedish officials said Tuesday they are optimistic about reaching a general agreement on legal assistance with Ecuador which could pave the way to questioning WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in London on outstanding accusations against him.

Prosecutors, who last month dropped cases of lesser sexual misconduct against the 44-year-old Australian, say they still want to talk to him about accusations of rape made after his visit to the Scandinavian country five years ago.

Assange, who has avoided extradition to Sweden by sheltering in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since 2012, has denied all the accusations made against him by two women.

Justice Ministry spokeswoman Cecilia Riddselius said the talks this week between Swedish and Ecuadorean officials had been "very good, very constructive" after Ecuador accepted a draft drawn up by Sweden which could lead to a general agreement within months.

She said they had not discussed the Assange case, which is the domain of the prosecution authority, but that she hopes the agreement could be applied here.

"Of course, the aim is that this general agreement on legal assistance will be applicable in this individual case," Riddselius told The Associated Press. "We have not had an agreement between the two countries that would have been applicable in the case."

Assange's lawyer in Sweden, Thomas Olsson, said he had no details about the talks, but that Assange has welcomed the idea of questioning in London "for some time."

"He has asked the prosecutor to come to London and interview him for several years now, but the prosecutor has denied to accept it," Olsson said. "He has been convinced that as soon as he has told his version of the facts the prosecutor will have to shut down the investigation."

The prosecutor's office declined comment on the talks or investigation on Tuesday.

Two women made allegations of sexual misconduct and rape against Assange after having separate sexual encounters with him during his 2010 visit, leading to a police investigation. He was questioned, denied all allegations and said he had consensual sexual encounters with the women.

Police passed on the case to the prosecutor who ordered his arrest, but he escaped to England for fear of being extradited to the U.S. because of an investigation into WikiLeaks' dissemination of hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. documents.

On Aug. 13, prosecutors dropped two cases of sexual molestation and one of unlawful coercion against Assange because their statute of limitations ended, unlike the allegations of rape that expire in 2020.

Swedish prosecutors initially refused to travel to London to question Assange at the embassy, but changed their minds in March.