Japanese officials and lawmakers said Monday they see no impact on relations with North Korea because of the death of a close aide to Pyongyang leader Kim Jong Il who had been a key player in negotiations with Seoul and Tokyo.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency reported Monday that Kim Yong Sun died Sunday at age 69 after being treated at a hospital due to a traffic accident June 16.

The agency did not elaborate on the nature of the accident or the direct cause of death.

As secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers Party of Korea, Kim was in charge of South Korea and Japanese affairs as chairman of the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee and vice chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland.

Since 2000, Kim had been receding from the central role he had been playing in negotiations in the 1990s for normalizing ties between Japan and North Korea, the Japanese officials said.

“He’s a person of the past,” a Foreign Ministry source said. Japan’s channel of contacts with North Korea is believed to have recently shifted to the Foreign Ministry and away from political parties.

Echoing the view from the Liberal Democratic Party, an influential lawmaker on North Korean affairs said, “There had been no contact with him for the past several years, and I hadn’t even heard about him.

“He had stepped away from the negotiations, and had no influence whatsoever over current negotiations,” the lawmaker said.

On the Japanese side, former LDP Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka, who was involved in the negotiations in the late 1990s, has retired from politics.

The Social Democratic Party has also lost the strong influence it had over Japan’s policy on North Korea in the past when it had maintained ties with the North’s party.

As the North Korean party’s secretary, Kim Yong Sun signed a joint declaration in September 1990 with a delegation from the LDP and the SDP’s predecessor, the Japan Socialist Party, which was then the largest opposition party.

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