Syrian President Bashar Assad is planning to visit North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in what would be Kim’s first summit with a foreign head of state in Pyongyang, the North’s state-run media said Sunday.
The timing of any potential meeting was unclear, but the North’s Korean Central News Agency quoted Assad as saying: “I am going to visit the DPRK and meet HE Kim Jong Un,” using the acronym for the North’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “HE” stands for “his excellency.”
Sunday’s report said Assad had made the remarks while receiving the credentials of the new North Korean ambassador to Syria during a ceremony Wednesday.
“The world welcomes the remarkable events in the Korean Peninsula brought about recently by the outstanding political caliber and wise leadership of HE Kim Jong Un,” Assad was quoted as saying. “I am sure that he will achieve the final victory and realize the reunification of Korea without fail.”
The Syrian regime, he added, “will as ever fully support all policies and measures of the DPRK leadership and invariably strengthen and develop the friendly ties with the DPRK.”
Syria and North Korea have maintained close relations since the late 1960s, when the North provided Syria with military assistance in its wars with Israel. Both maintain embassies in their respective capitals.
A Syrian nuclear reactor built with North Korean aid and destroyed in an Israeli airstrike in 2007 highlighted the two countries’ extremely close ties. The Syrian facility was almost identical to the Nyongbyon nuclear complex in North Korea, which produced plutonium for nuclear bombs, media reports citing Israeli intelligence officials said in March.
In February, a U.N. Panel of Experts report said North Korea sent items used in ballistic missile and chemical weapons programs to Syria along with missile technicians in violation of U.N. sanctions amid the Syrian civil war.
Assad has been battling rebels opposed to his rule since a popular uprising erupted seven years ago and plunged the country into a bloody and protracted civil war. Government forces lost large swaths of territory, but Russian intervention in 2015 on behalf of Assad has helped turn the tide of the war in his favor.
As Kim’s historic June 12 summit with U.S. President Donald Trump fast approaches, the North Korean leader is accelerating moves to cement ties with traditional allies. Kim is due to discuss the future of his nuclear weapons program with Trump.
The North Korean leader’s flurry of diplomatic activity in recent months has included two trips to China for meetings with President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party leadership. On Thursday, Kim also met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who invited the young leader to Moscow.
A summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to be held by yearend.