- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2007

SEOUL — The death of North Korea’s foreign minister, Paek Nam-sun, the communist nation’s top “diplomatic warrior,” is unlikely to lead to any change in Pyongyang’s policy toward Washington or the North’s nuclear weapons programs, analysts say.

Mr. Paek’s death was confirmed Thursday. No cause of death was given, but Mr. Paek, 77, was thought to be suffering from kidney disease.

Mr. Paek took on the role of foreign minister in 1998. Before that, he had come to prominence as a party cadre engaged in North-South Korean relations work with the Red Cross in the 1970s and 1980s. His last appearances on the international scene were at an Asian foreign ministers’ meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, followed by an official visit to Singapore, in July. During the visits, he was clearly ill and almost immobile.

Yesterday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, meeting in Washington with her South Korean counterpart, Song Min-soon, warned that a second nuclear weapons test by Pyongyang, following up on the test conducted in October, would only “deepen North Korea’s isolation” in the international community.

Miss Rice declined to discuss whether U.S. intelligence officials have picked up on recent private reports that the North could be preparing a second such test.

“I’m not going to speak about intelligence information, but we don’t see any change in the circumstances that we currently face,” she told reporters after talks in Washington with the Korean diplomat.

Mr. Song said there were no signs of an imminent nuclear test, which would be North Korea’s second since Oct. 9.

In a society as opaque as North Korea’s, it is impossible to predict a successor to Mr. Paek, but one analyst expected Mr. Paek’s deputy at the foreign ministry to succeed him.

“In real political terms, Paek has been a somewhat nominal minister. His deputy, Kang Sok-ju, has been playing the key role, talking directly to Kim Jong-il,” said Kim Sung-han of Seoul’s Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. “Kang is a possible successor, and he has been the point man in North Korean policy toward the United States.”

The chances of Mr. Paek’s successor having any leeway in moderating the country’s nuclear policy are small.

“In propaganda, the diplomatic corps is referred to as ‘diplomatic warriors’; there is talk of ‘attack diplomacy’; and every time they have a success on the diplomatic front, when they face down America, they consider it a ‘victory,’ ” said Brian Myers, an authority on North Korean propaganda at Dongseo University in South Korea. “This adversarial approach to relations is not going to change. In a dictatorship, there is no room for individual ministers to make policy decisions.”

State Department officials said yesterday there was a chance that six-nation talks on the North’s nuclear program could resume as early as this month. A short negotiating session last month in Beijing — following a 15-month boycott of the talks by Pyongyang — produced no progress, but Miss Rice said there had been some “very productive discussions” in the latest negotiating session.

In talks with China, the United States, South Korea, Russia and Japan, the North in September 2005 agreed to rid the peninsula of nuclear arms in exchange for economic aid and security guarantees.

But fleshing out the accord stalled when Pyongyang angrily reacted to U.S. Treasury sanctions on a Chinese bank that handled much of the North’s state accounts.

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