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S. Korea, Cuba hold first foreign ministerial talks

All News 12:00 June 06, 2016

By Lee Haye-ah and Joint Press Corps

HAVANA, June 5 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and Cuba held their first foreign ministerial talks in Havana Sunday, breaking a decades-long absence of formal diplomatic exchanges between the two sides.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se arrived in the Cuban capital a day earlier to attend a summit of the Association of Caribbean States. But the focus of his two-day stay was widely expected to be on relations between South Korea and Cuba, which have yet to establish formal diplomatic ties. Yun is the first South Korean foreign minister to visit Cuba.

At the Palacio de Convenciones, the South Korean minister met with his Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodriguez, behind closed doors for what was scheduled to be a 30-minute meeting. The talks lasted an hour and 15 minutes.

"For an exceptionally long 75 minutes, our talks were very friendly, serious and candid," Yun told South Korean reporters after the meeting. "We had a broad exchange of views on bilateral, regional and global issues."

The minister stopped short of mentioning a normalization of ties, but he was optimistic about the future.

"I expect there to be follow-up talks at various levels under a vision for the future," he said. "Our government plans to put in a lot of effort with that vision and an improvement in bilateral ties in mind."

Cuba formally recognized South Korea in 1949, shortly after its independence from Japanese colonial rule, but their bilateral relations had effectively been cut off since Fidel Castro took power in Cuba in 1959. The country has formed a close alliance with communist North Korea.

The United States' normalization of ties with Cuba last year led to expectations that South Korea, a U.S. ally, could also establish diplomatic relations with the island nation. South Korean officials, however, have guarded against such optimism, noting the strength of the Cuba-North Korea alliance that began with the establishment of bilateral diplomatic ties in 1960.

Yun's visit to Havana came as South Korea has been forging stronger ties with countries that have traditionally had close relations with North Korea, such as Uganda and Iran.

"I stressed the point that even though our bilateral ties are developing smoothly in various fields, it is time to focus more on the potential our two countries have," Seoul's top diplomat said. "I delivered the various thoughts we have in order to go in that direction."

He added that he felt a closeness developing between the two sides in the courtesy shown by the Cuban government during his attendance at the ACS summit and the extra time set aside for the talks.

South Korea is not among the 25 member nations of the ACS, but it has joined the group's gatherings as an observer country since 1998.


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