UBS can still settle a damaging U.S. tax case even though Washington is pushing ahead with a lawsuit to force the Swiss bank giant to identify offshore clients, the Swiss Finance Minister said.

A settlement is always possible under U.S. legislation, Hans-Rudolf Merz told a news conference on Wednesday when asked about the chances of an out-of-court deal.

The U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday it was still seeking to force UBS to identify an estimated 52,000 Americans suspected of using secret accounts to hide nearly $15 billion in assets from the U.S. taxman.

However, Merz said the DOJ filing was not the end of the story in the tax wrangle that is embroiling UBS, the world's biggest wealth manager.

The Americans have the habit to proceed like this. I know from experience that they are used to settle conflicts this way, he told reporters after the news conference.

UBS and the Swiss government have argued that any exchange of confidential banking information should be handled through existing legal treaties rather than in the courts.

UBS shares were up 0.7 percent at 13.38 Swiss francs at 8:31 a.m. EDT, in line with a 0.6 percent firmer DJ Stoxx European banking index, while U.S.-listed shares of UBS rose 1.9 percent to $12.44 in premarket trading.

UBS, which has already agreed to pay $780 million in February to avert criminal charges related to the tax dispute, is facing a first court hearing on July 13.

A settlement of the civil lawsuit, widely expected by tax experts, lawyers and analysts, would involve a fine that Swiss media say could amount to billions of dollars.

UBS will settle and pay a lot of money. It will end up paying for its clients, said a Swiss-based lawyer.

(Reporting by Lisa Jucca; editing by Simon Jessop)