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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
North Korean Minister of External Economic Relations Kim Yong Jae arrived in Damascus on Saturday to hold economic talks to counter sanctions and sign new memoranda of understanding (MOU), according to the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA).
Meetings at the Dama Rose Hotel in Damascus began later on Saturday and will continue through Tuesday, SANA reported, with signing ceremonies on MOUs of various kinds to be held on Wednesday.
Kim departed Pyongyang on December 5 with a stop in Beijing, and appears to have arrived in Damascus two days later via a Syrian Air flight, which appeared in a video posted by the Syrian Ministry of Finance (MOF).
The talks, being held with Syrian finance minister Mamoun Hamdan and officials from other ministries, are part of the 11th round of meetings under the DPRK-Syria Joint Economic Committee.
They are being held with the “aim of developing economic cooperation and discussing memoranda of understanding and agreements to be concluded,” SANA reported.
Finance minister Hamdan reportedly said “the two sides will discuss a number of agreements, especially economic, pointing to the common interests in several areas, including housing and public construction.”
He called for “intensifying efforts to reach agreements and understandings on projects that are in the interest of the two friendly countries and peoples,” citing again Syria’s interest in hiring North Korean construction workers to rebuild the war-torn country.
Ministry of External Economic Relations (MEER) chief Kim reportedly linked the partnership with Syria as a tool in the battle against sanctions, saying that “the only way to face the economic pressures imposed by the United States on the two countries is to achieve self-reliance, development and to strengthen cooperation.”
He also “expressed his confidence that the two sides will achieve great successes which contribute to concluding many cooperation agreements.”
Kim and Hamdan also chaired the 10th meeting of the joint committee held in May 2018 in Pyongyang, which produced various MOUs and where the two sides “discussed ways for expanding economic, scientific and technological cooperation.”
The Syrian finance ministry reported at the time that at least five agreements were made, with Kim signing MOUs on “cooperation in the field of industry” with the Syrian Ministry of Industry (MOI) — expiring in 2020 — and “in the field of investment promotion” with the Syrian Investment Agency (SIA).
An agreement on education cooperation also expires next year, while others were signed on “mutual assistance in customs matters” and on housing or construction with the Syrian Ministry of Public Works and Housing (MPWH).
Head of the MPWH Suhail Mohammad Abdullatif held a follow up meeting with DPRK ambassador to Syria Mun Jong Nam on November 5 to discuss construction cooperation, the North’s foreign ministry reported last month.
Follow up meetings were also held in August when deputy head of the MEER Ri Myong San led a delegation to Damascus, with at least one meeting discussing trade in a range of industrial goods with Syrian MOI head Mohammad Ma’an Zein al-Abiden Jazba.
It is likely that the Syrian ministries involved in the agreements made last year in Pyongyang will be involved again in the talks this week, with information on new MOUs signed on Wednesday likely to be released in more detail by the ministries later in the days following.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: SANA