SEOUL, Apr. 24 (Yonhap) - North Korea has sent an economic delegation to Iran, Pyongyang's state media reported Wednesday, a rare trip that raises suspicions of cooperation between the two nations over weapons programs.

The delegation, headed by External Economic Relations Minister Yun Jong-ho, left Pyongyang the previous day to visit Iran, the Korean Central News Agency said in a one-sentence dispatch.

It is rare for a ranking North Korean official to visit Iran. In 2019, Pak Chol-min, then North Korean vice chairman of the Supreme People's Assembly, visited Iran to discuss cooperation.

Having established diplomatic ties in 1973, Pyongyang and Tehran are known to have close ties while under international sanctions for their weapons programs. The countries have been suspected of exchanging ballistic missile parts and technology, especially during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.

The trip raises speculation that along with economic cooperation, North Korea may seek to deepen military ties with Iran amid Russia's war with Ukraine. Pyongyang and Tehran are known to be key providers of weapons to Moscow to support the war.

Following Iran's recent launch of more than 300 drones and missiles toward Israel, speculation has arisen that North Korean parts or military technology could have been used for Iran's missile salvo against Israel, citing close military cooperation between Pyongyang and Tehran.

In 2006, the chief commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards publicly acknowledged that his country had obtained Scud-B and Scud-C missiles from North Korea during the war, but no longer needs Pyongyang's assistance.

A 2019 report by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency showed Iran's Shahab-3 ballistic missiles were developed based on North Korea's midrange Rodong missiles. The Khorramshahr missile that Iran has developed is believed to be technically linked to North Korea's Musudan missiles.

Experts said the North could seek help from Iran over solid-fuel missile technology, such as a ballistic missile tipped with a hypersonic warhead.

In February, South Korean Defense Minister Shin Won-sik said North Korea has shipped about 6,700 containers carrying millions of munitions to Russia since July 2023 to support its war against Ukraine in exchange for food and other necessities.

Iran is also suspected of having provided Russia with drones for the war, with Kyiv saying that Russia had launched around 3,700 Iranian-made Shahed-136 attack drones at targets in Ukraine as of the end of last year.

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