Updated 12:37 AM EDT, Tue, Jul 14, 2020

Cuban President Raúl Castro to Visit France for the First Time in February

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Cuban President Raúl Castro will visit France for the first time next month.

Castro will meet his French counterpart, Francois Hollande, in Paris on Feb. 1, the Elysee Palace said in a statement on Monday. The state visit will mark "a new step in the reinforcement of relations between the two countries," the French presidency added, as reported by Yahoo! News. Castro's official state visit to France was first announced in December.

In May 2015, Hollande became the first Western president to visit Cuba in over 50 years, Reuters wrote. The French leader is reportedly positioning his country to take advantage of the restoration of diplomatic relations between the Communist nation and the United States.

During his trip to Cuba, Hollande urged the U.S. government to remove economic sanctions in the Caribbean island because it is harming the nation, Yahoo! News added.

Cuba and France agreed to annul $4 billion in debt last December as part of a deal between the island nation and the 15 rich creditor nations of the Paris Club, according to Reuters. France was Cuba's main creditor.

About 60 French companies are operating in Cuba, including hotels specialist Accor, construction group Bouygues, and distilled beverages firm Pernod Ricard, the news outlet listed.

During Hollande's visit last May, Cuba announced an oil exploration deal with France in the Gulf of Mexico, the Guardian reported. Both French oil major Total and Cuban state oil monopoly CubaPetroleo, or Cupet, signed an agreement to explore offshore oil sources.

Hollande assured back then that France "will be a faithful ally" to Cuba as it reforms its economy and goes back to the global economic system, adding that it will "help get rid of measures that have so seriously damaged Cuba's development," the Guardian added.

Aside from France, top diplomats from Italy, Japan, the European Union, Russia, and the Netherlands have also paid a visit to Cuba in past months to stake out or maintain relations with the island, the news outlet noted. Hollande's address last year also revealed that France is planning to boost academic exchanges with Cuba and mutually recognize the nation's university degree.

This month, the director of the U.S. Department at Cuba's Foreign Ministry, Josefina Vidal, said that relations between Havana and Washington must develop in 2016, despite it being an election year in the U.S. Vidal doubts that a new U.S. president will break off the country's renewed ties with Cuba, but issues could arise, such as "cooperation in different fields, the derogation of some instruments approved by executive decision or to strip them of their purpose through inaction," Prensa Latina reported.

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