North Korea's Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun has died, according to the country's official media.
Paek Nam-sun (left) attended an Asean meeting in July
In a one-sentence despatch, North Korea's KCNA news agency said the North's leader Kim Jong-il expressed his condolences over Paek's death.
Paek, 78, was one of only a few North Korean officials who was widely known in the West.
But analysts do not expect his death to impact on the North's foreign policy, which has been largely set by Mr Kim.
The KCNA report gave no indication as to the cause of death, but Paek had been rumoured to be ill for some time, possibly with chronic kidkey failure.
"Leader Kim Jong-il Wednesday sent a wreath to the bier of the late Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun... expressing deep condolences over his death," KCNA reported.
Paek had been foreign minister since 1998 and played a key role in high-level talks on inter-Korean relations as well as North Korea's nuclear programme.
In recent years, ill health had forced him to step back from the negotiating table, a South Korean government official was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.
One of his deputies, Kim Kye-gwan, led the North Korean delegation at the most recent six-party talks.
Paek's last major appearance was at an Asean meeting in Kuala Lumpur in July 2006, where, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency, he received medical treatment.