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Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura is considering visiting Havana as early as May as part of diplomatic efforts to improve the hitherto estranged relations between Japan and Cuba, government sources said Wednesday.

The sources said that If Komura visits Cuba he will be the first Japanese Cabinet minister to do so since Fidel Castro established a revolutionary regime in the Caribbean country four decades ago.

The sources also said that Cuban Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina Gonzalez will visit Tokyo from Feb. 22 to Feb. 27 at the invitation of the Japanese Foreign Ministry for talks with Komura and other Japanese government officials.

Although many other Cuban senior officials have visited Tokyo, Robaina will be the first Cuban Cabinet minister to visit Tokyo at the invitation of the Japanese government, the sources said.

Komura met with Robaina in New York last September during a session of the United Nations General Assembly and invited Robaina to Tokyo. Komura and Robaina are expected this month to discuss a possible Cuban trip by the Japanese foreign minister.

Although the government sources said that Komura has a desire to visit Havana as soon as possible, it is still uncertain whether he will actually make the trip as foreign minister, regardless of its timing, because a major reshuffle of Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi’s Cabinet is expected as early as June.

During the Cold War, Japan imposed strict restrictions on the exchange of high-level government officials with Cuba, which the United States regarded as a threat to its national security. Even after the end of the Cold War, Japan remains a staunch ally of the U.S., bound by the bilateral security treaty.

Although the U.S. still retains economic sanctions against Cuba, it has begun loosening them since Pope John Paul II made a historic visit to the island in January last year.

Most recently, President Bill Clinton approved a further relaxation of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba last month, including more contacts between Americans and Cubans. “During the Cold War period the U.S. was very sensitive to whatever Japan was thinking about or doing with regards to its relations with Cuba,” one government source said. “Therefore, it was impossible for Japan to have high-level contacts with Cuba at the risk of damaging relations with the U.S., its most important ally.

“But the situation has clearly changed. The U.S. no longer views Cuba as a security threat and no longer objects to high-level government contacts between Japan and Cuba.”

An exchange of visits by senior government officials and politicians between the two nations has become increasingly active in recent years. President Castro stopped over at Narita Airport during an overseas tour in 1995. It was the first time in history that the Cuban leader stepped on Japanese soil.

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