Mexico Seeks to Renew Ties With North Korea, Also Backs Cuban Government: Foreign Minister

Mexico's Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard expressed his country's desire to reopen relations with North Korea on Saturday, after his government also this week voiced support for the Cuban government amid large-scale protests in the Caribbean island nation.

Mexico's support for Cuba's government, as well as its desire to reopen ties with North Korea, put the key U.S. trading partner at odds with leaders in Washington, D.C. The U.S. has for decades had tense relations with Cuba due to Washington's opposition to the communist government there, while also technically remaining at war with North Korea despite the conflict's unofficial end in 1953.

"We have a position of hands-off around the world, we respect all governments, and we want to reopen the relationship with North Korea as well, like any other country," Ebrard told reporters on the sidelines of a United Nations Security Council meeting in New York this weekend, Bloomberg reported.

Earlier this week, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador blamed the U.S. embargo of Cuba for the nation's economic woes, which have stirred large-scale protests against the island nation's communist government. "They are going through a difficult situation that I basically attribute to the blockade," Lopez Obrador said, Reuters reported.

Mexican leaders
Mexico voiced support for Cuba's government this week amid protests, as did North Korea. On Saturday, Mexico's Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard expressed a desire to reopen relations with North Korea. In this photo, he speaks during a press conference at the National Palace in Mexico City on June 10, 2019 as Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador listens. ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP via Getty Images

Ebrard expressed a desire to do "what can be done on behalf of the entire community" in Cuba amid the protests.

North Korea has also expressed its staunch support for Cuba's government. "The anti-government protests that occurred in Cuba are an outcome of behind-the-scene manipulation by the outside forces coupled with their persistent anti-Cuba blockade scheming to obliterate socialism and the revolution," a spokesperson for the East Asian nation's foreign ministry said in a Friday statement.

A spokesperson for the State Department disputed the Mexican president's assessment that the U.S. embargo on Cuba led to the current situation.

"The Cuban people are making demands of their government. There is every indication that the protests were spontaneous expressions of people who are exhausted with Cuban government corruption, economic mismanagement, and repression," the spokesperson said.

"The U.S. embargo allows humanitarian goods to reach Cuba, and we expedite any request to export humanitarian or medical supplies to Cuba."

The U.S. has maintained an embargo against Cuba since the 1950s, blocking most U.S. companies from doing business on or with the island. The embargo does not prevent other nations from trading with or doing business in Cuba; however, it does incentivize non-U.S. entities to avoid business ties there. Critics of the U.S. embargo, including some progressive lawmakers in Congress, argue that the policy is a key factor behind the current economic crisis that has led to thousands taking to the streets in protest against the government.

During the Korean War, the U.S. backed South Korea against North Korea's authoritarian leaders, who were supported by communist China and the now defunct Soviet Union. Although the conflict came to an unofficial end in 1953, no formal peace deal has been reached and the U.S. maintains about 28,000 troops in South Korea to bolster the forces of its key ally.

President Joe Biden expressed support for the anti-government demonstrators in Cuba this week.

"We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba's authoritarian regime. The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights," Biden said in an official statement on Monday.

"Those rights, including the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected. The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves," he said.

Former President Donald Trump attempted to improve relations with North Korea in an effort to get the Asian nation to denuclearize. While Trump became the first U.S. president to step foot in the nation and met with the nation's Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un on multiple occasions, those diplomatic efforts saw little, if any, success. Biden, meanwhile, appears to have returned to a more traditional U.S. policy toward North Korea.

Updated July 18, 2021, at 8:12 AM ET with a statement from the State Department.