North Korean leader Kim Jong Il hopes for stronger friendship with Syria, the North's official news agency reported Saturday, amid lingering suspicions of a secret nuclear connection between the two countries. Kim expressed the hope in a message to Syrian President Bashar Assad on the anniversary of a 1963 coup that brought Syria's Baath Arab Socialist Party to power, the North's Korean Central News Agency reported. "I express my firm belief that the friendly cooperative relations between the two countries will be further expanded and strengthened in various areas," Kim said in the message. The North's No. 2 leader, Kim Yong Nam, sent a similar message to the Syrian president, KCNA said.