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Korea plans to provide development aid to Cuba

South Korea said Wednesday it plans to provide Cuba with $3 million (3.3 billion won) in development funds to help boost food productivity and combat poverty in the Central American nation.

The policy comes in apparent efforts to improve relations with Cuba following a recent breakthrough in the nation’s Cold War standoff with the U.S.

Seoul’s Foreign Ministry clinched an agreement with the World Food Program for the three-year project on the sidelines of the agency’s executive board meeting in Rome on Tuesday. The organization made a proposal early last year in line with its “Zero Hunger” initiative.

“The latest food security program has significance as our first ever development cooperation project with Cuba at the government level,” the ministry said in a statement.

“We expect to make a meaningful contribution to Cuba’s economic and social development by distributing food to the underprivileged while helping the country lay the foundation to secure food self-sufficiency.”

Cuba is one of the four countries with which South Korea has no official diplomatic relations, severed since Fidel Castro took power and established a communist government through the 1959 Cuban Revolution. The Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency runs a small office in the capital, currently.

The Caribbean island country has instead nurtured a close partnership with Pyongyang. In July 2013, Panamanian authorities intercepted a North Korean vessel carrying arms from Cuba, which constituted a breach of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Yet Seoul has apparently been looking to rewrite the bilateral relationship after Washington made a historic move in December to end more than 50 years of hostility and restore ties with Havana.

On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said at the National Assembly that he will “pursue normalization of the relationship” with Cuba.

With a major international book fair set to kick off in Havana this week, the ministry is sending a delegation of officials for the first time, alongside novelists and poets. Kim Dong-ki, director general for cultural affairs at the agency, is scheduled to discuss ways to expand cultural exchanges on Friday with Alfredo Ruiz Roche, director general for external relations at Cuba’s culture ministry.

In November, the ministry also supplied $1 million worth of personal protective equipment to Cuban medical workers stationed in Sierra Leone and elsewhere through the World Health Organization to help fight the Ebola spread.

By Shin Hyon-hee (