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Assad: Syria, North Korea Targeted Over 'Real Independence'

A handout picture shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, left, meeting with Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sin Hong Chol in Damascus, March 8, 2015.

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad said his country and North Korea are under scrutiny because of their "real independence."

Citing Assad, who on Sunday hosted a delegation from Pyongyang headed by North Korean Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Sin Hong Chol, Syrian state media outlet SANA reports the president "emphasized that Syria and (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea) are being targeted because they are among those few countries which enjoy real independence. ..."

Syria is among a small group of about two dozen countries that maintains an embassy in Pyongyang.

North Korea's Kim Jong Un was one of the few world leaders to publicly congratulate Assad's re-election in 2014, during Syria's civil war that has claimed thousands of lives.

Both countries are sharply criticized by much of the international community for their human rights conditions.

Transparency international ranks the two toward the bottom of 175 countries surveyed -- with North Korea second-to-worst -- in its 2014 corruption index.

The United Nations concluded an investigation into North Korea last year, saying Pyonyang's policies were leading to a "wide array of crimes against humanity."

The organization also released a report in February claiming government authorities in Syria are "implicated in the commission of gross violations and continue to perpetrate crimes pursuant to state policy."