Syria’s Bashar al-Assad ‘planning state visit to North Korea’

Controversial president reportedly admires the ‘outstanding political calibre’ of Kim Jong Un

Bashar al-Assad
President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has repeatedly been accused of human rights abuses
(Image credit: Alexey Druzhinin/AFP/Getty Images)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is planning a meeting with Kim Jong Un in North Korea, according to the hermit kingdom’s state news agency.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) claimed yesterday that Assad had confirmed his interest in making the state visit during a meeting last week with North Korea’s newly appointed ambassador to Damascus, Mun Jong Nam.

Assad reportedly said that “the world welcomes the remarkable events in the Korean Peninsula brought about recently by the outstanding political calibre and wise leadership of HE [His Excellency] Kim Jong Un”.

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The news agency did not specify when such a visit would take place nor what its purpose would be. Syrian government officials have yet to confirm North Korea’s claims.

It would be the first time Kim Jong Un has formally hosted a head of state since taking power in 2011, the BBC reports.

New York Magazine notes that Syria is “one of the few countries that has maintained cordial diplomatic relations with North Korea over the last few decades”, after the isolated Asian country sent hundreds of troops to Syria to assist in its fight against Israel during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. UN reports suggest that Pyongyang may be supporting Syria’s current chemical weapons programme.

In recent months, Kim has struck a conciliatory diplomatic tone with other global leaders, holding meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. This “flurry of diplomacy”, as The Guardian dubs it, is expected to culminate in a summit with Donald Trump in Singapore on 12 June.

However, receiving Assad - one of the White House’s key adversaries - on a state visit would “risk raising Trump’s ire” and possibly “derail” the US-North Korea summit, which has already been cancelled and then resurrected, The New York Times says.

Many analysts are already sceptical about the supposed olive branch that Pyongyang appears to be extending to its former enemies, and a visit from Assad would be likely to severely damage Kim’s precariously balanced image in the eyes of the West.

The UN Human Rights Council has accused Assad of committing “gross violations of human rights and war crimes” during the ongoing Syrian Civil War, and Syria is considered a “rogue state” by the US government.

Commenting on the latest development, Sue Mi Terry, the Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in Washington DC, said: “The optics are horrendous given that Kim Jong Un is trying to posture as a good guy.

“Hosting Assad, one of the worst butchers on the planet, as your first foreign leader visit is not a good PR move.”

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