The foreign relations of North Korea – officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – have been shaped by its conflict with South Korea and its historical ties with world communism. Both the government of North Korea and the government of South Korea (officially the Republic of Korea) claim to be the sole legitimate government of the whole of Korea. The Korean War in the 1950s failed to resolve the issue, leaving North Korea locked in a military confrontation with South Korea and the United States Forces Korea across the Demilitarized Zone.
At the start of the Cold War, North Korea only had diplomatic recognition by Communist countries. Over the following decades, it established relations with developing countries and joined the Non-Aligned Movement. When the Eastern Bloc collapsed in the years 1989–1992, North Korea made efforts to improve its diplomatic relations with developed capitalist countries.
Iran–North Korea relations
Iran–North Korea relations are described as being positive by official news agencies of the two countries. Diplomatic relations picked up following the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and the establishment of an Islamic Republic. Iran and North Korea pledged cooperation in educational, scientific, and cultural spheres, as well as cooperating in the nuclear program of Iran. The United States has expressed its opposition towards North Korea’s arms deals with Iran, which started during the 1980s during the Iran–Iraq War, as well as selling domestically produced weapons to Iran, with former US President George W. Bush labeling North Korea, Iran, and Iraq under Saddam Hussein as part of the “Axis of evil,” in his conception.
Israel–North Korea relations
Israeli–North Korea relations are hostile, and North Korea does not recognize the state of Israel, denouncing it as an ‘imperialist satellite’. Since 1988 it recognizes the sovereignty of the State of Palestine over the territory held by Israel.
Over the years, North Korea has supplied missile technology to Israel’s neighbors, including Iran, Syria, Libya, and Egypt. Syria, which has a history of confrontations with Israel, has long maintained a relationship with North Korea based on the cooperation between their respective nuclear programs. On 6 September 2007, the Israeli Air Force conducted an airstrike on a target in the Deir ez-Zor region of Syria. According to Media and IAEA investigative reports, 10 North Korean nuclear scientists were killed during the airstrike.
When North Korea opened up for Western tourists in 1986 it excluded citizens of Israel along with those of Japan, the United States, and South Africa. It has been suggested that North Korea has sought to model its nuclear weapons program on Israel’s, as “a small-state deterrent for a country surrounded by powerful enemies; to display enough activity to make possession of a nuclear device plausible to the outside world, but with no announcement of possession: in short, to appear to arm itself with an ultimate trump card and keep everyone guessing whether and when the weapons might become available.”
North Korea–Palestine relations
North Korea established diplomatic relations with Palestine in 1966. Beyond this, North Korea has long seen Israel as an “imperialist satellite” and recognizes the sovereignty of Palestine over all territory held by Israel, excluding the Golan Heights, which is considered as Syrian Territory. After the demise of the Soviet Union, North Korea’s in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict declined and North Korea shifted from the exporting of revolution to pragmatism. During the Gaza War (2008–09) North Korea harshly condemned Israeli actions, with a Foreign Ministry spokesman denounced the killing of unarmed civilians and called it a crime against humanity. Later, on the floor of the UN General Assembly North Korea permanent representative Sin Son-ho said that North Korea “fully supported Palestinians’ struggle to expel Israeli aggressors from their Territory and restore their right to self-determination.” After the 2010 Gaza flotilla raid, North Korean Foreign Ministry called the attack a “crime against humanity” perpetrated under the guidance of the United States, with North Korea also expressing full support for the self-determination of the Palestinian Arabs. During the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement that read: “We bitterly denounce Israel’s brutal killings of many defenseless Palestinians through indiscriminate military attacks on peaceable residential areas in Palestine as they are unpardonable crimes against humanity.”
North Korea–Syria relations
Syria and North Korea have had close relations since the late 1960s when North Korea provided military assistance to Syria in its wars with Israel. They maintain embassies in the other country’s respective capitals.
North Korea built a nuclear reactor in Syria based on the design of its own reactor at Yongbyon, and North Korean officials traveled regularly to the site. The Syrian reactor was destroyed by Israel in an airstrike in 2007. The United States signed the Iran North Korea Syria Nonproliferation Act in 2000. In 2016, there were reports that North Korean troops were fighting to defend the Syrian government in the Syrian Civil War.
North Korea–Turkey relations
Turkey’s relations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) is limited.
The basis of diplomatic relations is the Memorandum of Understanding signed in Beijing on January 15, 2001. Following the completion of the legal process in Turkey and North Korea, the two sides made a simultaneous joint announcement on 27 June 2001 on the establishment of diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level.
The Turkish Embassy in Seoul is accredited to North Korea, while the North Korean Embassy in Sofia is accredited to Turkey.
Turkey actively supports international efforts aiming at preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery for a nuclear-weapon-free world. In this regard, Turkey is in favor of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and fully supports and strictly complies with the UNSC Resolutions and supports international sanctions against the DPRK.
Egypt–North Korea Relations
Egypt–North Korea relations refer to bilateral relations between Egypt and North Korea. Egypt has an embassy in Pyongyang whilst North Korea has an embassy in Cairo.
Relations have remained fairly strong since the time of Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Non-Aligned Movement, when North Korea strongly supported Nasser’s decision to nationalise the Suez Canal. During the Suez Crisis, on 3 November 1956, the DPRK issued a declaration of solidarity with Egypt, and sent a small amount of financial aid (60.000 won) in the aftermath of the invasion. In 1957 and 1958, the two governments signed a trade agreement and a cultural cooperation agreement, respectively. A North Korean diplomatic delegation was sent to Egypt in 1961 for the purpose of establishing consular relations.On 24 August 1963, the two governments elevated their diplomatic relations to the ambassadorial level.
During the annual UN General Assembly debates over the Korean problem, Egypt initially abstained on the question of whether both Koreas or only the Republic of Korea should be invited to participate in the UN discussions. On 11 December 1962, Egypt, for the first time, voted in favor of a Soviet draft resolution on inviting both Koreas; this step was probably a reaction to the recent establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and South Korea (9 April 1962). Nevertheless, in 1962-1966 Egypt still refrained from rejecting the U.S.-sponsored UN resolutions on Korea; instead, it preferred to abstain from voting.
In the aftermath of the Six-Day War, North Korea provided Egypt with food aid (5.000 tons of cereals). Egypt, on its part, switched to a consistently pro-DPRK position in the UN. At that time, this shift reflected Nasser’s growing dependence on Soviet assistance, but the Egyptian government maintained cordial relations with the DPRK even after Nasser’s successor, Anwar Sadat, broke with the USSR in favor of a partnership with the U.S. In 1973–1976, Egypt continued to side with North Korea in the UN and the Non-Aligned Movement, whereas the DPRK expressed agreement with the Sinai Interim Agreement, the abrogation of the Egyptian-Soviet treaty of friendship (14 March 1976), Sadat’s visit in Jerusalem (19–21 November 1977), and the Camp David Accords.
In 2015, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who has refused to enforce United Nations sanctions against North Korea, invited North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to attend the reopening of the reworked Suez Canal; Kim Yong-nam attended in his place.
During the visit of a North Korean government delegation headed by Kang Ryang-uk (1-7 March 1973), Egyptian Chief of Staff Saad el-Shazly asked the delegates to dispatch DPRK troops to train Egyptian pilots. On April 6–13, Shazly visited the DPRK and gained the consent of Kim Il-sung. The North Korean trainers (20 pilots and 18 other staff members) arrived in June and were assigned in July. On October 18, after the outbreak the Yom Kippur War, Kim Il-sung sent Egypt and 16 other Arab states a message of solidarity. However, during the Libyan–Egyptian War in July 1977, North Korea sided with Libya.
President Anwar el-Sadat approved the sale of R-17 Elbrus missiles to North Korea between 1976 and 1981. North Korea has also helped Egypt develop its own missile systems. North Korea obtained its first Scud-B ballistic missiles from Egypt in 1979 or 1980, whereas in the 1990s, Egypt purchased Scud-C missiles from North Korea.
Port Said has served as a transshipment port for North Korea’s weapon exports to Africa. The United Nations reported in 2016 that a North Korean freighter containing some 30,000 rocket-propelled grenades worth an estimated $26 million had been intercepted off the coast of Egypt; the RPGs were allegedly purchased by the Egypt-based Arab Organization for Industrialization overseen by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
In 2017, following a visit to South Korea, Egyptian Defense Minister Sedki Sobhi reportedly announced that Egypt had “severed all military ties with North Korea” after the US slashed some $291 million worth of aid to Egypt.
Egypt is one of North Korea’s biggest trading partners. As of 2010, Egypt is the third-largest importer of North Korean goods, after China and South Korea, and also ranks among the top five exporters to North Korea. The Egyptian telecommunications company Orascom was critical to the establishment of Koryolink in 2008, creating North Korea’s only 3G phone network. Orascom also became the first non-North Korean company to own a telecom license in North Korea.
Iraq-North Korea Relations
Iraq established diplomatic relations with North Korea in 1968. However, Iraq cut off diplomatic relations in October 1980, due to North Korea’s military support for Iran in the Iran-Iraq War.
Prior to the 2003 Iraq War, Saddam Hussein reportedly sought to acquire Rodong missile systems from North Korea. While North Korea received a $10 million down payment from Baghdad, Iraq never received any missiles or missile technology from the deal.
Jordan-North Korea Relations
North Korea established diplomatic relations with Jordan in 1974. In 1998, North Korea closed its embassy in Jordan. In 2018, Jordan announced that it cut diplomatic ties with North Korea.
Lebanon-North Korea Relations
North Korea established diplomatic relations with Lebanon in 1981. In 1995, North Korea closed its embassy in Lebanon. In 2017, North Korean exports to Lebanon were valued at $712,000, while Lebanese exports to North Korea were reported to be $189,000.
Kuwait-North Korea Relations
Kuwait established diplomatic relations with North Korea in 2001.
The Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development has reportedly financed several projects related to water supply, sewage and sanitation, and road construction in Pyongyang. In 2011, Air Koryo opened a weekly route from Pyongyang to Kuwait City, which reported serves to transfer North Korean laborers working on construction projects in the Middle East — these flights sometimes operated only intermittently and were halted by October 2016.
According to news reports, there are approximately 3,000 North Korean workers in Kuwait, including some active-duty soldiers, seconded to construction projects. In September 2017, Kuwait expelled the resident DPRK ambassador, as part of a wave of such expulsions following North Korea’s sixth nuclear test. Kuwait also announced at the time that it would no longer grant entry visas to North Korean workers, or commercial licenses to North Korean companies. However, the Kuwaiti government also indicated at the time that North Korean workers currently in the country would be allowed to stay until their employment contracts expire. In 2017, reported North Korean exports to Kuwait were valued at $250,000, while there were no reported Kuwaiti exports to North Korea
Bahrain-North Korea Relations
Bahrain and North Korea established diplomatic relations in 2001.
In 1987, following the Korean Air Flight 858 bombing that killed 115 people, North Korean agent, Kim Hyon-hui, was apprehended in Bahrain and extradited to South Korea.
Qatar-North Korea Relations
Qatar established diplomatic relations with North Korea in 1993.
Over a thousand North Korean laborers were sent to Qatar for construction projects, including the construction of stadiums for the 2022 World Cup. In September 2017, Qatar announced that it would halt visa issuance for North Korean laborers; by 2018, Qatar reported that only 150 workers remained in-country. In 2017, reported North Korean exports to Qatar were valued at $462,000, while Qatari exports to North Korea were not reporte
United Arab Emirates-North Korea Relations
North Korea reportedly sold Scud-type missiles to the United Arab Emirates in the late 1980s and sold an additional shipment of 30 Scud missiles to the UAE in 1999. The DPRK and the United Arab Emirates established diplomatic relations in 2007. Relations were severed in 2017, following repeated North Korean nuclear and missile tests. In 2007, the UAE billionaire and real estate developer, Mohammed Alabbar flew to Pyongyang to discuss potential development projects. In 2009, UAE authorities interdicted a DPRK cargo shipment of arms bound for Iran. A branch of the Pyongyang restaurant Okryu-gwan opened in Dubai in 2010. In 2015, a UAE-based firm allegedly discussed a $100 million arms deal with North Korea. The UAE has hosted North Korean laborers working on construction sites and other projects. In October 2017, the UAE government announced that it would stop issuing visas to North Korean workers, in line with UN Security Council Resolutions.
Oman-North Korea Relations
Oman and North Korea established diplomatic relations in 1992. In 2015, it was reported that an estimated 300 North Korean workers were in Oman, but in 2016, the Omani government stated that they were all repatriated back to North Korea
Yemen-North Korea Relations
North Korea established diplomatic relations with North Yemen in 1963, and with South Yemen in 1968. Pyongyang established embassies in North and South Yemen in 1970 and 1988, respectively. A combined North Korean embassy in Yemen was closed in 1998. In 2002, a North Korean freighter carrying a shipment of Scud missiles en route to Yemen was intercepted by Spanish warships. The shipment was eventually allowed to proceed. Although the Yemeni government subsequently distanced itself from North Korea, military cooperation is alleged to have continued through about 2010. In 2015, Houthi forces fired Scud missiles — alleged to have been supplied by North Korea to the Yemeni government years earlier — into Saudi Arabia.