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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
The North Korean and Syrian foreign ministries agreed in meetings in Pyongyang on Monday to boost economic cooperation in order to counter the effects of international sanctions on both of their countries, the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) reported.
A memorandum of understanding (MOU) was also signed “on establishing a committee for political consultation… to enhance communication and coordination regarding all issues of mutual interest,” according to the MOFA.
The agreement was signed between DPRK Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Yong Ho and his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moallem, who arrived in Pyongyang last Friday.
Both sides in the talks “stressed the need to activate commercial, economic, and cultural cooperation agreements and to continue exchanging visits on various levels,” the MOFA said.
In vowing to boost “bilateral relations in all fields, particularly economy,” the two sides emphasized coordination in facing “the economic terrorism and sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies.”
Notably, the report in state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) omitted any references to joint efforts to counter sanctions.
That report instead said the two “exchanged deepened views on regional and international matters and reached a consensus of them, reaffirming their commitments to boosting mutual support and solidarity.”
The KCNA report also mentioned the signing of an “MOU on political negotiations.”
The Syrian MOFA quoted Ri, however, as saying that “bilateral cooperation and self-reliance will help the two countries confront sanctions and embargoes.”
One method of jointly countering these sanctions, he reportedly said, could come from DPRK efforts to “enhance the strategic relations with Syria and support it in the reconstruction process,” referencing the damage wrought by almost a decade of civil war.
The comments on reconstruction as a vehicle for boosting ties echo those made by vice foreign minister Pak Myong Guk during a meeting in Damascus at the end of April, and by the DPRK ambassador to Syria in late 2017.
In 2014, the two sides signed a series of economic and trade agreements covering areas such as industry, banking, oil, aviation, and tourism. Agreements were also reportedly signed in media and culture exchanges.
On international issues, Ri on Monday reportedly “affirmed his country’s firm support for Syria and its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” also mentioning the DPRK’s support for their “positions on the occupied Syrian Golan.”
In March this year, the North Korean foreign ministry came out in defense of Syria’s territorial claim over the Golan Heights – currently under Israeli control – following U.S. President Donald Trump’s formal recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the land.
The two also discussed North Korea’s “positions regarding developments in the Korean Peninsula and East Asia, and the dialogue between the DPRK and the U.S.,” according to the Syrian MOFA, “expressing matching viewpoints on all issues.”
Al-Moallem said the Syrian-DPRK relationship “dates back to over 50 years,” with the KCNA report also quoting him as describing their “historic and traditional relations of friendship and cooperation.”
The KCNA also reported that a reception was held for the visiting Syrian delegation at the Mansudae Assembly Hall on Monday.
The delegation’s remaining schedule in Pyongyang has yet to be released.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Facebook