Pyongyang hopes to rekindle a Cold War-era friendship.
Korean Central News Agency announced Friday that North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and his delegation will be traveling to Cuba, in hopes of revamping international support amid sanctions and widespread condemnation of Pyongyang’s nuclear missile tests.
The Washington Post reported that North Korea’s visit to Cuba occurs as Pyongyang’s largest trading partners announced they would halt trade with the isolated nation. Singapore—North Korea’s seventh largest trading partner–indicated it would sever its trade with the country Thursday, while the Philippines—Pyongyang’s fifth largest trading partner—is following suit.
Indeed, North Korea has witnessed mounting isolation from the international community, following its ongoing nuclear threats against the U.S. Last month, North Korea has issued a warning to Washington and the rest of the world about the possibility of testing a powerful hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean, CNN reported. The country has pledged to turn the U.S. into a “sea of fire” if attacked, as the Kim Jong Un regime tested an intercontinental missile capable of reaching the continental U.S.
Other countries, such as Sudan, announced Friday that it will cut trade and military ties with North Korea, in what appears to be a “significant victory” for the Trump administration’s efforts to isolate the totalitarian nation, The Times of Israel reported. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson encouraged other African nations to sever ties with North Korea, during a meeting with African foreign ministers at the State Department on Friday.
In September, Egypt, Uganda, Philippines, Mexico, Peru, Kuwait and Spain expelled North Korean diplomats following the country’s sixth nuclear test at the time, Reuters reported.
North Korea’s reach to Havana may not stem from economic reasons—Cuba is not part of Pyongyang’s top 10 trading partners, the Post reported. Instead, the connection might as well have to do with the diplomatic tensions both nations have with the United States and how they can advance bilateral cooperation amid sanctions and isolation. On November 8, the Trump administration announced a crackdown on U.S. travel and business with Cuba, rolling back a landmark Obama-era policy, USA Today reported.
Meanwhile, Trump signed an executive order that widened U.S. sanctions on North Korea last September. The move suggested that the White House was intent on saddling Pyongyang with more economic sanctions that would kick the regime out of the international banking system while targeting the country’s major industries and shipping, The New York Times reported.
It is not the first time Cuba and North Korea have joined forces. During the Cold War years, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, a key figure in the Cuban Revolution, visited North Korea in 1960 and “praised” Kim Il Sung’s regime “as a model for Cuba to follow,” the Post reported. As the two nations have faced economic sanctions, they were willing to work together at all costs: In 2013, a North Korea-flagged ship was seized by Panamanian authorities, after undeclared Cuban weapons and fighter jets were found under sacks of brown sugar from the island—a potential violation of U.N. sanctions related to North Korea’s nuclear program, Reuters reported at the time.
It remains to be seen how the Trump administration will monitor the new bilateral approach between Havana and Pyongyang—especially if both countries are seeking any military agreement, as Cold War sentiments might reverberate. Havana was a major player in the so-called Cuban Missile Crisis, a 13-day political and military standoff between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in 1963 over the installation of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles on Cuban soil. Even though many people thought the world was on the brink of nuclear war, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev reached an agreement with President John F. Kennedy to remove the Cuban missiles under the condition that Washington would not invade the island.