Paek Nam Sun, 78, North Korean Diplomat

By Jae-Soon Chang
Associated Press
Thursday, January 4, 2007

Paek Nam Sun, 78, the North Korean foreign minister who had been his country's top diplomat since 1998, has died, the country's official media reported Jan. 3.

The one-sentence dispatch did not provide more details, including when or how he died. But China's official Xinhua news agency said Mr. Paek died Jan. 2. News reports have said he was suffering from kidney disease.

Mr. Paek's death is not believed likely to lead to changes in North Korea's foreign policy. The North's Foreign Ministry usually implements policies that have been crafted by the ruling Korean Workers' Party. Power is heavily concentrated in the hands of leader Kim Jong Il, and state officers stray from the official line at their peril.

Mr. Paek's most recent overseas trip was to Malaysia for Asia's largest security conference, called ARF, and then Singapore for an official visit in July.

In previous ARF meetings, Mr. Paek met U.S. secretaries of state Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell, but he did not hold such a meeting with Condoleezza Rice in July.

Mr. Paek's death came as tensions remained high on the Korean peninsula after the North's Oct. 9 nuclear test. North Korea held talks with the United States and four other regional powers last month over the nuclear standoff, but they failed to make progress.

Ban Ki-moon, who stepped down as South Korea's foreign minister in October to become the new U.N. secretary-general, expressed his condolences on the death of Mr. Paek, "with whom he worked for peace and prosperity on the Korean peninsula over the years," U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said in New York.

"The secretary-general hopes that the death of foreign minister Paek does not, in any case, hinder the ongoing six-party process or the way for North Korea's foreign policy to open up to the international community," Montas said.

Mr. Paek graduated from Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang and later participated in talks in the 1970s between the two Koreas' Red Cross societies over such issues as separated families. Diplomatic involvement with South Korea, the North's wealthy neighbor and former battlefield foe, has always been a key to career advancement for North Korean officials.

Mr. Paek was an elite loyalist who rose over decades through government ranks. 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. He was ambassador to Poland in the 1970s.

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