Yon Hyong-muk, a top North Korean defence official and close confidant of the reclusive leader Kim Jong-il, has died at the age of 73.
Mr Yon was involved in negotiations with South Korea as prime minister
Mr Yon, a former prime minister who was also close to Mr Kim's father, Kim Il-sung, was Kim Jong-il's number two on the body that controls the army.
North Korea's KCNA news agency hailed Mr Yon's "burning loyalty and high abilities" in announcing his death.
He had pancreatic cancer, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.
As prime minister from 1988 to 1992, Mr Yon led the North Korean team that negotiated a number of pacts with South Korea, including the 1992 agreement to denuclearise the Korean peninsula.
The deal has had little effect.
Mr Yon is the third high-ranking North Korea official to die in the past two years, prompting speculation that a generational change of influence within Pyongyang's power structure could come sooner than expected.
His death is unlikely to lead to any change in the North's foreign policy, Professor Koh Yu-hwan of South Korea's Dongguk University told the AFP news agency.