Visiting Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage on Tuesday called for strengthening bilateral relations with Japan on various fronts, ranging from tourism, sports and culture to business.

Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori greets visiting Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage ahead of their talks Tuesday in Tokyko.

Lage, considered one of the most likely successors to Cuban President Fidel Castro, made the request during talks with Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori at his official residence Tuesday morning.

He said the four chartered flights in August between Japan and Cuba, the first of their kind, were a big success and said Cuba looks forward to additional tourism from Japan, a Foreign Ministry official said. Between 1,300 and 1,400 Japanese tourists flew from Osaka to Havana via Vancouver, British Columbia, in August on Japan Airlines chartered flights. The two governments are considering allowing more flights, the official said.

Mori in turn said Japan not only wants to strengthen Tokyo-Havana relations but also hopes to see improved ties between Cuba and the United States, the official said.

“As a friend of both Cuba and the U.S., Japan strongly hopes for the two countries’ relations to improve by overcoming difficulties,” Mori was quoted as saying.

Lage said the Havana-Washington relationship is difficult, with continued U.S. economic sanctions.

However, he said, Havana will someday normalize ties with Washington because voices against the present antagonistic relationship are mounting in the U.S. among lawmakers, businesspeople and the media.

Strengthened relations between Japan and Cuba would help lead to Havana-Washington normalization, Lage was quoted as saying.

Lage also handed over a letter of invitation from Castro to Mori to make an official visit to Cuba at a convenient time, the official said. Mori thanked him and said he will consider the visit.

Lage is effectively in charge of Cuba’s economic policy and is the highest-ranking representative of Havana to ever make an official visit to Japan.

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