By Alex Jensen
SEOUL (AA) - Officials from North Korea and Cuba have gathered in Havana in an effort to strengthen ties, Pyongyang’s state media reported Wednesday.
Senior ruling party official Kim Yong-chol left North Korea for Cuba over the weekend -- a trip viewed by South Korea’s Foreign Ministry as an attempt to meet with one of the few countries not party to international sanctions following the North's fourth ever nuclear test in January.
Even Pyongyang’s traditional ally China has been seen to be enforcing punitive measures following the test, along with a rocket launch in February.
Cuba was one of the world’s communist states to congratulate North Korea on its first Workers’ Party congress in nearly four decades earlier this month.
Havana has also been seen as a supporter of the North since the two sides established diplomatic relations in 1960. The bond does not appear to have broken despite Cuba’s move towards better ties with the United States in 2014.
The U.S. was a key player in demanding tougher United Nations sanctions against North Korea this year, and is regularly targeted by the authoritarian state’s aggressive rhetoric due to its military presence in South Korea.
Pyongyang secured a series of cooperation deals with Havana earlier this year, and the North’s state-run KCNA news agency reported that the latest Cuba talks included discussions on ways to further boost their relationship -- seemingly regardless of the international community’s attempts to limit Pyongyang’s nuclear weapon ambitions.
North Korea has also engaged with Mozambique and Equatorial Guinea over the last few days, while continuing to reach out to its southern neighbor.
The North’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said Wednesday that Pyongyang has again made an offer of inter-Korean dialogue -- as it has done for six consecutive days.
South Korea is so far holding firm in its insistence that North Korea demonstrate a commitment to concrete denuclearization steps as a condition for talks.
In March, the South implemented a series of its own set of sanctions against Pyongyang aside from strengthened sanctions from the UN and the U.S.
The South has also blacklisted dozens of North Korean officials and organizations suspected of links to the country's nuclear weapon development, along with entities from Syria and Taiwan.