Kim Yong-nam, North Korea's nominal head of state, will attend the Non-Aligned Movement, or NAM, summit in Tehran this weekend, Pyonyang's official news agency said.
Yong-nam is the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly and has represented North Korea's supreme leaders (both the late Kim Jong-Il and now his son, Kim Jong-un) in visits around the world.
He attended the 2009 NAM summit in Egypt and also travelled to Laos and Vietnam earlier this month.
The news agency also reported that an Iranian delegation visited North Korea in July for "political negotiations and consultations on international developments." That parley ended with both sides adopting a shared stand against "Western imperialism."
The high-level relations between North Korea and Iran, both of which are under various international sanctions over their respective nuclear programs, may suggest an increasingly friendly relationship that could pose a grave threat to international security.
Western nations both suspect North Korea and Iran have been developing nuclear weapons despite strenuous efforts by the U.N., U.S. and EU to halt such activities.
Since a report issued last November by the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, strongly suggested Iran is seeking to build atomic bombs, the U.S. and Western European governments have tightened the screws on Tehran by adopting event more stringent sanctions, some of which have put a squeeze on Iran's key oil export industry.
Despite the devastating impact on Iran's economy (for example, the rial currency has plunged 40 percent since December), the sanctions have not led to any halting of Iran's uranium enrichment program so far.
Now rumors are escalating that Israel, which views a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat, may soon launch military strikes on Iranian atomic sites.
Similarly, the U.N.'s sanctions on North Korea have also failed to dissuade Pyongyang from relinquishing its nuclear ambitions.
A 2006 nuclear test conducted by North Korea, followed by a satellite launch and a second nuclear test in 2009. compelled the U.N. to impose draconian sanctions on the isolated state. By 2010, the North Koreans reportedly started work on a uranium-enrichment plant, raising grave concerns in South Korea and Japan.
Earlier this year, Pyongyang launched a (failed) satellite test, despite assurances it would give up such activities in exchange for much-needed food aid.
Analysts have expressed fears that similar cycles of global condemnation and North Korean defiance will continue.
According to a report released by the U.N. Security Council in June, there is still "ample evidence" that North Korea "continues actively to defy the measures in the resolution."
While noting that the extensive sanctions may have slowed down North Korea's nuclear program (because of the increasing financial difficulties of maintaining an arms trade), the report warned that, without firm commitments by North Korea's trading partners (i.e., China), the effectiveness of such sanctions will be limited.
Indeed, China has great incentive in preventing North Korea's government from collapsing as that would likely trigger a huge influx of refugees across its borders.
China accounts for 57 percent of North Korea's total trade and has increased its trade volume with North Korea to $3.5 billion in 2010, according to Bloomberg.
Now, Iran (while suffering from its own round of sanction) also appears to be a major player in North Korea's economy, to the dismay of U.N. and U.S. officials.
According to a confidential U.N. report obtained by Reuters earlier in May, North Korea and Iran have been regularly exchanging ballistic technology in violation of U.N. sanctions.
The report, which was submitted to the Security Council by a U.N. Panel of Experts, a group that monitors compliance with U.N. sanctions imposed on Pyongyang, stated: "Prohibited ballistic missile-related items are suspected to have been transferred between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea [North Korea] and the Islamic Republic of Iran on regularly scheduled flights of Air Koryo and Iran Air.
"For the shipment of cargo, like arms and related materiel, whose illicit nature would become apparent on any cursory physical inspection, [North] Korea seems to prefer chartered cargo flights," the report added.
Experts have also highlighted the design similarity between a warhead displayed in a North Korean missile and an Iranian warhead.
However, aside from the trade of nuclear technology, arms and oil, there appear to be no other commercial transactions between the two countries.
Nonetheless, a close relationship between North Korea and Iran would raise serious concerns in the West and perhaps undermine, or at least weaken, sanctions placed upon these nations.
As China now continues to build the two economic zones in North Korea, Western sanctions on North Korea would be neutralized. Furthermore, if North Korea and Iran were to deepen their friendly relationship, sanctions on Iran might also be somewhat compromised.