North Korea says Paek Nam Sun, the only North Korean Foreign Minister to have ever met with his United States counterpart, has died. VOA's Kurt Achin has more from Seoul, where experts say the death is not expected to alter significantly Pyongyang's foreign policy direction.
North Korea's official Central News Agency reported on Wednesday Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun's death, saying North Korean leader Kim Jong Il had sent a wreath and expressed deep condolences.
Paek, who was 77, was one of relatively few North Korean officials with a high public profile in a government characterized by its extreme secrecy.
In July of 2000, Paek took part in the first and only ministerial level talks between North Korea and the United States, during then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's visit to Pyongyang.
His death comes during a pause in six-nation talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons capabilities. The United States, Russia, China, Japan and South Korea are trying to persuade Pyongyang to disarm in exchange for financial and diplomatic benefits.
Experts here in Seoul say Paek's death is unlikely to affect the dynamics of the six-party talks - or any other aspect of Pyongyang's foreign policy. Ryoo Kihl-jae, a Dean at Seoul's Kyungnam University Graduate School of North Korean Studies, points out that Paek's position is mainly a ceremonial one.
He says that most of the policy formation in North Korea's Foreign Ministry is done at the deputy level. He says it has long been established that North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kang Seok Ju - a close associate of Kim Jong Il - is the real shaper of Pyongyang's foreign policy.
Paek has had recent health issues. During last year's main security meeting of Asian foreign ministers in Kuala Lumpur, he had to cut his visit short and seek treatment for liver problems in Malaysia.