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 to the planning for next week’s summit between President Trump and the North Korean leader.
The report by the state-run news agency KCNA gave no details on the timing of a possible trip by Assad, who has rarely left Syria since the country’s conflict erupted more than seven years ago. There was no immediate comment from Syrian officials.
But even the suggestion of outreach from Assad to North Korea is certain to ripple through White House efforts to define an agenda for the planned June 12 summit in Singapore. 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 for the purported remarks to be made public.
“I am going to visit the DPRK and meet HE Kim Jong Un,” Assad was quoted as saying, 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 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 meeting will bring pledges from Kim to begin rolling back the country’s nuclear program. The North, meanwhile, has noted possible stumbling blocks for the talks, denouncing, for example, 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 in the early 1950s.
In addition, Kim has made two trips to China in recent months, and he met Thursday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Syria and North Korea have maintained close relations for decades. A nearly completed Syrian nuclear reactor destroyed in an Israeli airstrike in 2007 was believed to have been based on North Korean designs.