The regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad announced Monday that it had awarded North Korean Ambassador to Damascus, Jang Myong Ho, Syria’s “Order of Merit of Excellent Degree” in honor of his work to bring Assad deeper in the orbit of dictator Kim Jong-un.
The order, gifted Sunday at a ceremony marking the end of Jang’s term as top diplomat for his country in Syria, was “a gesture of appreciation for his efforts to enhance relations between the two countries,” according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA).
Jang, in response, issued a congratulatory statement to Assad “over the victories [the Syrian army] has achieved,” a statement also clearly meant in support of the Assad army following U.S. airstrikes in Damascus in response to allegations that the dictator had once against used chemical weapons to attack and kill Sunni Arab civilians.
“Myong Ho said that providing all types of support and solidarity to Syria in its just cause is one of the principles of the DPRK leadership and people,” SANA reported.
“Thanks to that support, I was able to perform my tasks in a way that strengthens the bilateral relations between our two friendly countries,” the Ambassador concluded, alluding to “terrorist attacks” on the North Korean embassy in Damascus without elaborating and supporting Assad’s efforts against “terrorism.”
In multiple interviews since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, Assad has referred to nearly any Syrians objecting to his rule in the country as “terrorists.” He has also used the term to refer to American soldiers fighting the Islamic State in his country.
In addition to publishing the news of Jang’s award, SANA highlighted an article from March detailing the close relationship between Syria and the Kim regime.
“A history of strong bilateral relations binds Syria and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) which has been embodied over the years by agreements and protocols based on mutual respect for the aspirations of the peoples of the two countries and the keenness to develop their relations,” SANA claimed then. The outlet listed “economy, trade, technology, sports, culture as well as the media field” as fields in which the two countries have joined forces. It also noted that Syria has stood against the United States in tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.
Diplomatic cooperation between the two states is ongoing, but contact between Kim and Assad personally also occurs periodically. This month, Kim sent a message to Assad published in North Korea’s state Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), where he “extended warm congratulations to the Syrian president on the occasion of the 72nd anniversary of the independence of the country.”
“The message sincerely wished the Syrian president good health and bigger successes in his work, again extending firm support and solidarity to the just cause of the Syrian government and people,” KCNA reported.
Multiple reports published in the past decade indicate that the two countries also provide clandestine military support for each other. In February, independent monitors revealed in a report to the United Nations Security Council that North Korea had successfully evaded weapons sanctions to the tune of $200 million in 2017, in part by selling weapons to Syria.
The UN itself accused North Korea of selling chemical weapons to Bashar al-Assad that month in a report that the UN did not make public, according to the New York Times.
“North Korea has a sordid history of supplying rogue states like Syria with weapons of mass destruction technology for cash. Given its large and growing arsenal of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and missile delivery systems, this is extremely dangerous,” former Pentagon non-proliferation official Andrew C. Weber told the Washington Post at the time.
In between the news of the existence of both of those reports becoming public, SANA published a story celebrating Syria’s “solid and deep-rooted foundations of friendship and cooperation” with North Korea.
North Korea officially denied that it had sold chemical weapons to North Korea in March, calling the claim “nonsensical.”