PYONGYANG, North Korea, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun has died at the age of 77 in Pyongyang, the Korean Central News Agency reported.
A brief statement Wednesday said North Korean leader Kim Jong Il had sent a wreath and expressed condolences to Paek's family, the Kyodo news agency reported.
In Seoul, Ryoo Kihl-jae, a dean at South Korea's Kyungnam University Graduate School of North Korean Studies, told Voice of America that Paek's position was mainly a ceremonial one.
Ryoo said it has long been established that North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kang Seok Ju -- a close associate of Kim -- is the architect of Pyongyang's foreign policy, particularly in six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program.
However, Paek was the first and only foreign minister to meet with his U.S. counterpart, which was in 2000 when he met with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Pyongyang.
Various regional reports said Paek had a history of medical problems, with some claiming it was his liver and others citing kidney problems.