On Monday, North Korea pledged to start talks on nuclear disarmament with the United Nations nuclear watchdog, in line with a stalled February agreement, after confirming receipt of its previously-frozen $25 million, transferred from a Macao bank.
Taro Aso told journalists Tuesday that Pyongyang's position "has become more positive than before. We have reached a time when we can make the first steps toward denuclearization."
Olli Heinonen, the chief inspector of the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said earlier Tuesday that an IAEA team was on its way to North Korea, to "negotiate arrangements for IAEA verification for the shutdown and sealing of the nuclear facilities."
However, Heinonen said that how long it takes to shut down and seal the Yongbyon reactor, used to produce weapons-grade plutonium, depends on the North Korean side.
The United States' top negotiator at the six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear problem, Christopher Hill, paid a brief visit to the reclusive state late last week and held talks with top officials.
He said on Monday that the reactor could be disabled by the end of the year, and that foreign ministers of the six nations - North and South Korea, the United States, China, Russia, and Japan - could meet at the ASEAN Regional Forum, a security bloc of Asian nations, on Aug 2 in the Philippine capital, Manila.
The Japanese foreign minister said such a meeting would only take place if the nuclear envoys of the six countries meet beforehand.
Hill had suggested that the nations' nuclear negotiators could meet for talks in the second half of July.
North Korea had until now refused to implement an agreement reached on February 13 in Beijing, demanding the release of its $25 million, frozen following money laundering accusations from the United States.
Under the Beijing deal, the North had agreed to allow IAEA inspectors into the country, and to close the Yongbyong nuclear reactor in exchange for fuel aid. The country conducted its first nuclear bomb test last October.
Russia's Dalcombank, based in the Far East city of Khabarovsk, announced Monday that the funds had been transferred in full to Pyongyang, in a complex international transaction.
Following the announcement, North Korea released a statement saying discussions with the IAEA would be held on June 26 in Pyongyang on inspections and shutting down nuclear facilities.