Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, is expected to embark on his first state visit next week by attending an international meeting in Iran.
Kim, who inherited power after the death of his father in December, will take part in the six-day summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran, which is scheduled for August 26 – 31.
The Non-Aligned Movement is a group of countries which do not formally consider themselves aligned with a major power bloc. It was founded in 1961 at the height of the Cold War by countries which did not want to side with NATO or the Warsaw Pact Nations.
The summit is held every three years and rotates around the 120 member nations.
The venue for this year’s summit has provoked criticism in the West because of Iran’s defiance of international pressure over its nuclear program. North Korea is also standing firm in the face of criticism about its efforts to develop nuclear warheads and the missiles to deliver them.
Iran and North Korea are close allies and have reportedly exchanged technology and know-how in the face of United Nations sanctions.
Analysts believe the two states may be attempting to build a united front and perhaps attract other non-aligned nations to their corner.
South Korea’s Arirang News quoted an Iranian spokesman for the summit as confirming that Tehran would welcome Kim on his first overseas trip since taking over North Korea.
Mr. Ban’s decision to attend the meeting, announced by his spokesman, Martin Nesirky, came despite objections from both the Americans and Israelis, including a phone call from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. It was announced a few days after the new president of Egypt, a country that has long been estranged from Iran, said he would attend the summit meeting as well, a decision that had already unsettled the Israelis. Washington had asked that Ban not take part in the meeting and stated that Iran does not deserve to host the meeting due to its refusal to comply with international demands to provide details of its nuclear program.
The movements of Kim have been keenly tracked since he became leader of the authoritarian regime in Pyongyang.
If Kim does travel to Iran, it will signal yet another radical change from the leadership demonstrated by his predecessor, Kim Jong-il, who was famous for rarely travelling overseas and never travelled by aircraft.