Paek Nam Sun, North Korea's foreign minister and the country's top diplomat for nearly 10 years, has died at the age of 78, official media reported Wednesday.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il expressed his condolences, the North's Korean Central News Agency reported. The one-sentence dispatch did not elaborate on when or how Paek died.
Paek has been the North's premier diplomat since 1998. News reports have said he was suffering from an unknown illness. It was unclear who would succeed him.
Paek's death was not expected to change North Korea's foreign policy because the North's Foreign Ministry usually implements policies that have been crafted by the ruling Korean Workers' Party. Power is heavily concentrated in Kim's hands, and state officers stray from the official line at their peril.
Paek's career is the story of an elite loyalist who rose steadily through the government layers over the decades. He was born in 1929 in North Hamgyong, a province on the Chinese and Russian borders that is home to a coal mine notorious for forced labor as well as a key missile base.