Seoul: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has expressed interest in traveling to North Korea to meet Kim Jong Un, North Korean media reported Sunday, adding another layer of possible intrigue onto the planning for next week’s summit between President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader.
The report by the state-run KCNA news agency gave no details on the timing for a possible trip by Assad, who has rarely left Syria since the country’s civil war erupted more than seven years ago. There also was no immediate comment from Syrian officials.
But even the suggestion of Assad’s outreach to North Korea is certain to ripple through White House efforts to define an agenda for the planned June 12 summit in Singapore between Trump and Kim. It also reflects Kim’s push to shed his reclusive image and seek wider contacts, including apparent efforts underway to hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The KCNA report said Assad made the comments about a possible trip to North Korea last Tuesday while receiving the credentials of the North Korean ambassador. The report did not say why it took almost a week to note Assad’s purported comments.
“I am going to visit the DPRK and meet HE Kim Jong Un,” Assad was quoted saying in the report, using the initials for North Korea’s official name and referring to Kim using letters that stand for “his excellency.”
Assad’s only trips outside Syria since 2011 have been several trips to key ally Russia, most recently in May.
The exact scope of the discussions planned for the Singapore summit remains unclear. The Trump administration hopes the Singapore summit will bring clear pledges from Kim to being rolling back the country’s nuclear program. The North, meanwhile, has noted possible stumbling blocks for the talks, including denunciations of upcoming military exercises involving the United States and South Korea.
But Kim has also conducted his own parallel outreach – holding two meetings with South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, and sending envoys to meet with teams from the South on other initiatives such as possible gatherings for families separated by the Korean War more than 60 years ago.
In addition, Kim has made two trips to China in recent months and met Thursday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Syria and North Korea have maintained close relations for decades. A Syrian nuclear reactor destroyed in an Israeli airstrike in 2007 was believed to be built partly on North Korean designs.
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