A member of North Korea’s elite on a state visit to Tehran said the DPRK is attempting to unite with Iran and Palestine to cooperate and counter “foreign aggression”, according to a report from local media outlet ISNA published on Monday.
Choe Thae Bok, Chairman of the North’s Supreme People’s Assembly, made the remarks while leading a delegation to Iran. The DPRK delegation is attending an international conference in support of Palestine, along with groups from 80 other countries.
The North Korean envoy also contributed to the forum, expressing solidarity with the Palestinians, and calling for Israel to leave the Middle East.
“Choe has a been a party official since at least the late 1950s and a senior official since the 1980s. He served for many years as head of the party’s international affairs department and so has much experience in foreign relations,” NK News Director of Intelligence John Grisafi said. “He likely holds a great deal of knowledge and influence and his presence in Iran signifies Pyongyang is taking that relationship quite seriously.”
The comments were the second time during the visit Choe that has spoken about improving ties with the Middle Eastern nation. On Sunday, local media reported Choe had met with Iran’s parliamentary speaker Ali Larijna and made similar remarks.
“North Korea is seeking improved relations with Iran,” Choe said, in comments carried by AFP, though did not add further details on what was discussed.
The North’s state-run media outlet the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) also reported Choe met with Seyed Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, and the speaker of the Malaysian parliament. If accurate, the meeting would have occurred amid a fiery diplomatic spat stemming from the murder of Kim Jong Un’s estranged half-brother Kim Jong Nam in Kuala Lumpur airport last week.
The DPRK and Iran have a long history of military cooperation, with reports from the UN’s Panel of Experts finding some evidence of suspicious or sanctions breaking trade over the years.
“I can only speculate as an outsider, but it isn’t too difficult to imagine the issues on their agenda,” Daniel Pinkston a North Korea watcher at Troy University told NK News.
“They have a science cooperation agreement, but we don’t know how much that extends into nuclear technology, missiles and space launch vehicles. But certainly the two sides have incentives to cooperate in those areas,” Pinkston added.
The 2013 report said that rocket fuses had been seized while on route from the DPRK to Iran, while later reports indicated that weapons likely produced in the North had been shipped by Tehran to Syria.
The latest PoE investigation, released last year, also found that representatives from the designated Korea Mining and Development Cooperation – the North’s primary arms dealer – were active in Iran.
The countries might also cooperate on energy. North Korea has an idle refinery on its eastern coast, while Iran is re-entering oil markets after the U.S. eased sanctions on Iranian crude exports.
Late in 2015, the U.S. Congressional Research Service published a report predicting that additional quantities of Iranian oil would reach North Korea, though there has yet been no evidence any trades between the two countries.