Syria has long been the DPRK’s (North Korea) closest ally in the Arab world. Beginning in 1970, Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad developed a close relationship with DPRK founder and head of state Kim Il-sung as both leaders secured a close trans-regional partnership.
The friendship continues to this day with recent gestures of good will including Syria opening a park in central Damascus named for Kim Il-sung. The park opened in 2015, during the height of the current conflict in Syria.
Recent years have seen both the DPRK and Syrian Arab Republic sanctioned by the US and their allies. In spite of this, the current heads of state in each country have managed to prevent a much sought after “regime change” by the United States. Now, both Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and DPRK head of state Kim Jong-un appear to be on the verge of demonstrating how to stay in power against the wishes of Washington while many other governments named on George W. Bush’s so-called “axis of evil” have been both toppled and murdered.
While a Syrian head of state visiting an ally in Pyongyang is neither novel nor surprising, the timing of President Al-Assad’s announcement is incredibly intriguing as it comes days before Kim Jong-un is scheduled to be the first DPRK head of state to ever meet a sitting US President.
In all likelihood, the Syrian President seeks to invite the DPRK to help participate in Syria’s post-war reconstruction. Many reconstruction contracts have already been signed between Damascus and other key partners including China and Russia, so it would be fitting to invite a steadfast, decades long ally like the DPRK to participate in the process. Furthermore, as the possibility of the DPRK’s economy opening to further investment and inter-connectivity opportunities in the midst of the current Korean peace process, Syria’s leader is well aware that the DPRK may soon be in a position to contribute to more projects abroad than that which was realistically possible in recent years.
Beyond this thought, both leaders would clearly have much to say to one another about how to survive US attempts at regime change and the kind of compromises necessary in order to ward off such threats. In the case of Syria, the legitimate President has been able to remain in power through a combination of rallying his loyal troops, securing crucial international support, including from the Russian superpower and in the latter stages of the war, it would appear that allowing Russia to broker compromises with Syria’s traditional enemies has further given the would-be “regime change” actors less room to manoeuvre than they had even one year ago.
In the case of the DPRK, the country recently achieved what it refers to as “nuclear parity” with the US after a tense year of brinkmanship which included the DPRK successfully testing a hydrogen bomb and the intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of delivering a nuclear payload to the mainland United States. After the DPRK successfully completed its nuclear deterrent, Kim Jong-un personally extended an olive branch to South Korea in January of this year which has thus far culminated in Kim Jong-un meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on southern soil, twice in the last two months. Furthermore, Pyongyang’s de-nuclearisation process has helped to instigate a major international peace process involving China, Russia and the United States.
Thus, while Bashar Al-Assad and Kim Jong-un were both able to survive years of US provocations and aggression against tremendous odds, they accomplished this in very different ways. Furthermore, according to some pundits, neither leader is fully out of the woods yet when it comes to the possibility of future US aggression. But taken in totality, both leaders clearly have many related stories of geopolitical survival to share with one another and furthermore, if the two Korean states begin to participate in joint economic ventures as the peace process continues, there is a chance that Syria would be able to commence trade with both Korean states and that furthermore, both the DPRK and South Korea could be potential future partners for post-conflict re-construction in Syria.
This latter point is perhaps the most intriguing as except for the most perverse American neocons, few could object to the prospect of both Korean states helping to re-build parts of the Syrian Arab Republic that have been devastated by seven years of war. Such a move for peace could actually see part of the so-called “axis of evil” be transformed to the “axis of multi-polar cooperation” as China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan and even India would clearly welcome the participation of both Korean states in the post-war reconstruction of Syria.
There are many possible positive outcomes of an Assad-Kim meeting and while a date has not yet been set, both leaders have much to offer each other’s nations, far beyond the realm of offering a mutual congratulatory salutation on being part of an elite club of world leaders who have bent but never broken before US pressure in the 21st century.